Beating the Christmas Stress

Festively frazzled? Here are 7 top tips to help you manage stress and feel calm this Christmas.

10th Dec 2018

It’s meant to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ but the pressure of the festive season can often mean frayed nerves and sky-high stress levels. Read on for some easy tricks you can include in your routine today to help you cope.

Beyond the twinkling lights and messages of yuletide cheer, the actual experience of Christmas can be pretty overwhelming. There is often a lot of pressure to live up to a certain expectation of what this season should be. Endless to-do lists and social engagements can make you feel like there is even less time in the day than usual, leading to a stress overload. This can be especially true for women, with over a third of us feeling more frazzled in December than any other month, according to studies. Small wonder too – family tensions, the pressure to socialise and “be merry”, money worries and sugar-fuelled children is hardly a recipe for success. On top of all that, if you have a tendency to turn to food as a way of coping or you struggle to stay at your happy weight, the temptation to over-indulge can prove just too much.

Stress not only zaps your energy and makes you feel rubbish in the short term, it can have a real impact on your long-term health too. From digestive issues and anxiety to diabetes, Alzheimer’s and depression, stress plays a key role in many chronic conditions.

So, while you may think you’re not stressed enough to be making yourself ill, don’t be fooled. The steady drip feed of everyday stress can be as detrimental to your health as a major life crisis, so it really pays to take action now to keep your stress response in check. It’s also worth noting that stress makes losing weight very difficult – and you’re much more likely to store fat around your middle. This is really a survival mechanism: the human body hasn’t changed much since caveman times, when extra energy was kept where it could be accessed easily, ready to get us out of danger. Of course, we no longer have to run away from sabre-toothed tigers or defend our mud huts from marauders. Instead, the constant drip-drip-drip of daily stress makes shifting those stores very tricky.

With that in mind, here are my seven top tips to help you manage your stress levels over this busy festive season (and beyond):

1. The 10-minute mind trick: Set aside 10 minutes a day for meditation. Simply sit down in a quiet room with your back supported and eyes closed and focus on your breathing. Don’t worry if thoughts bubble to the surface – this is completely normal! The more you resist the more they will persist. Simply bring your attention back to your breath and continue until the time is up. If you’re new to meditation or need more support, find a guided meditation app or online resource to lead you through the process.

2. Don’t skip meals: Hectic schedules and erratic eating times can lead to a dip in blood sugar levels, which in turn causes the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. It’s difficult when routines go out the window, but try to stick to three meals (with two optional snacks) a day and your nerves will thank you for it (as will your digestion). Base all your meals and snacks on protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds), fruit and vegetables and smaller amounts of complex carbs (sweet potatoes, rice, oats).

3. Watch your alcohol and caffeine intake: I know it’s hard, especially at Christmas when socialising revolves around drinking, but try ditching (or significantly reducing) your alcohol and caffeine intake. Caffeine causes a release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands – the last thing you want if you are already stressed! At first, alcohol might help to relax you when you’re stressed out (by promoting the release of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter), but it is quickly metabolised to sugar. This can lead to a restless sleep and higher stress in the long run. Speaking of which…

4. Make sleep a priority: Get into a sleep routine that includes relaxing practices such as taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, light reading or stretching. Introduce a digital detox at least an hour before bed (that means no phones, no TV, no laptops or tablets), so as not to disrupt melatonin production (the sleepy hormone). A light snack such as an oatcake with almond butter or a banana an hour or so before bed may help to support undisturbed sleep.

5. Choose magnesium-rich foods: Magnesium relaxes the nervous system and muscles so eating foods rich in this mineral, such as leafy greens, avocados, sesame seeds and spinach can help reduce stress.

6. Eat your protein: Have some protein with every meal or snack to curb blood sugar spikes that can lead to higher stress and lower energy. Focus on organic or grass-fed meat and poultry, wild game, free-range eggs and fish. If you’re veggie or vegan, fantastic plant proteins include lentils, chickpeas, beans, quinoa and nuts and seeds.

7. Get to the cause: Look at the root cause of any stress in your life, and think about how you respond to it. If the effect of stress or just general busyness gets in the way of your efforts to stay healthy and you’d like to do something about it, I warmly invite you to book a FREE 30-minute consultation to help you get back on track to a calm mind and a happy body.

This is a guest post by Katie Edwards

Katie is a Nutritional Therapist in private practice at Brighter Spaces Islington