10 ways to handle holiday stress

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It's almost Thanksgiving and this means we're about to enter the holiday season. I can almost feel the eerie calm before the storm - before waves of pressure, obligation, stress and anxiety sweep over us. 

What we think the holidays should be vs. the reality of how they really are can diminish what is supposed to be a joyful time. We get caught up in the wants and forget to just enjoy ourselves and the people around us. So what can we do to stay a little more relaxed during the holidays? Here are some tips for keeping yourself chill during this holiday season. 

1. Keep expectations in check 

We all want things to turn out perfectly. Perfect meals, perfect gifts for everyone, blah blah blah. Life is unpredictable and things creep up unannounced whether small or big. You don't always have control over the turnout of events, so be realistic and remember that you can only control your actions. 

2. Shop online

Maybe I'm the only one here but I haven't stepped foot in a mall around the holidays in a long time. I mean, why? If you want to buy an Instant Pot as a gift, you shop on Amazon. The idea of battling my way through crowds and waiting in long lines does not appeal to me. Some people may love the holiday bustle and like being part of it so if that speaks to you, by all means, go for it. 

3. Eat the right foods

Around this time of year people start saying things like, "well I'll indulge now and start fresh in January". It seems self defeating especially during this hectic time. The right food can stabilize our mood, improve focus and our coping ability. Certain foods have a calming effect as well so be sure to get plenty of these in your diet. Here are some examples:

  • Good fat: Eating plenty of fish such as salmon, sardines and other fatty fish, will ensure that you get ample DHA and EPA, which will keep your brain functioning optimally. Additionally, it reduces inflammation and helps to decrease anxiety. 
     
  • Bone broth: It contains the amino acid, glycine, which has a calming effect on the body. Additionally, it supports gut health and a healthy gut is directly related to a healthy, functioning brain. 
     
  • Tea: Green tea contains the amino acid L-theanine, which helps to induce feelings of relaxation and calm. Another tea worth sipping is chamomile, which has shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety. 
     
  • Eggs: Another important food for your brain. Eggs are rich in choline, which a vitamin B like nutrient. The brain uses choline to make acetylcholine -  a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in proper brain function. 
     
  • Greens: I talked about the importance of magnesium in this post. Ensuring you're getting plenty of magnesium will help to keep anxiety at bay. Greens are a great way to get your magnesium in. If you want a quick magnesium packed salad, check out this post

4. Exercise 

One of the best ways of dealing with stress and anxiety is through movement. Whether it's walking, running, yoga or any other form of exercise. Just make sure you do it regularly. Exercise stimulates endorphin production, which triggers positive feelings, reduces anxiety and stress. 

5. Create new traditions

If you don't like the traditions you and your family have, change them. There is no written rule that says things have to be done a certain way. If you don't like making a turkey, don't -  make a ham. If you don't want to cook everything yourself, delegate things out, etc. You're not locked into things. Recruit those you love and do your own thing.

6. Don't forget to have fun 

Remember how everything was magical during the holidays when you were a kid? Why not bring back some of that magic and simply savor the process. Enjoy being with the people you love and make the most out of the time you have together.

7. Practice mindfulness

Be present in the moment. We're tempted to rush through everything, including the holidays. When we're stressed, we tend to share that stress with others. By becoming mindful and staying with the moment just as it is, we can feel more at ease and a lot less stressed.

  • Mindful breathing - Whenever possible stop whatever you're doing for 20 seconds and take a few conscious breaths. Return to what you were doing.
  • Mindful movement - Whether roaming around department stores or grocery shopping during a busy time, pay attention to your body as you move. Actually being mindful of the steps you take, making conscious contact with the ground beneath you will help connect you to the present moment.
  • Mindful being - In the middle of the holiday craze, sit back and just observe. Connecting with humanity on a larger scale can remind you of the basic goodness of people. 

8. Be grateful

Don't forget that you're very lucky to have family members who care about you, who you can actually have fun with/argue, etc. Our time here is limited. Don't let little things get in the way of the bigger picture. 

9. Meditate 

When things get crazy and obligations pile, our stress invetitably mounts. When this happens, drop whatever you're doing and take a few minutes to just sit and breathe. Meditation doesn't have to be complicated. No need for a special mediation cushion and mala beads (though cool if you have those). Just simply sit wherever you are and get really quiet. Focus on your breath and just stay in tune with the present moment. If you want additional help, there are plenty of apps our there. I've used Calm for a few years and really like it. 

10. Have a glass of wine

Well you don't have to ask me twice. But seriously, we all need to lighten up, have a drink and relax. Eat good food and appreciate the fact that we're lucky enough to be surrounded by people who care about our existence.