If you're like me, you've probably read plenty of articles about stress—and how (and why) you should relax: do yoga, meditate, deep breathe, etc. While these things can and do help reduce stress, I've always found it stressful to think I have to do these things in order to reduce my tension! For that reason, I've researched ways to reduce stress that don't add anything else to my already-full plate. What I found: there are truly simple ways to lessen anxiety (something I'm prone to during the holidays!). And the best part: they don't involve much effort. What could be better than that?
But first, you need to know just why stress is so bad for your health—and your happiness. Essentially, when your body is under stress, your entire system is in a state of alarm. It's your body's way of protecting itself from danger—but in this day and age, so many of us are in a state of stress all the time. This constant and chronic stress wreaks serious havoc with our bodies, our health, and our moods.
The main culprits: two stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol—with cortisol being the most problematic. Adrenaline elevates heart rate and blood pressure and boosts energy. Cortisol increases the amount of sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream to give us energy, but this can easily backfire if you have too much sugar in your bloodstream. Cortisol also suppresses the immune and digestive systems.ʷ
If you've ever wondered why you get sick so often around the holidays, this is one key reason. Sure there are plenty of viruses around, but if your immune system has been suppressed, it can't effectively do its job against the viruses your body comes in contact with. For easy ways to keep your body from getting sick read, 9 Surprising Tips to Help You Stay Healthy.
So how can you stop stressing—and start enjoying life again this time of the year? It's easy, if you follow these tried-and-tested (and completely do-able) strategies:
1) Just say "no".
This is the simplest way to reduce stress as it literally cuts down the unnecessary to-do's on your proverbial plate. We all want to help; this is a wonderful thing, particularly around the holidays—but it's not wonderful if you extend yourself so much that you get sick or irritable or angry. Saying "no" is okay; it doesn't make you a bad person. Pick one (or possibly two) things to contribute to this season and say "no" to all the rest. And don't feel guilty for one second. You're only one person—and can only do so much.
2) Have a finite time to shut off work.
This is so easy to do (it's just a simple switch), yet so hard for so many of us. The reasons are numerous: "I have to finish going through these e-mails", "I need to get this document out tonight,"... the list goes on. But set a definitive time each night to shut off work—and stick to it. (I even shut down my Wi-Fi just to really make it extra difficult for me to sneak a peek at my e-mails; if nothing's coming in, there's no reason for me to pick up my smartphone.) Just make sure shut-off time is at least one hour before you go to sleep; experts say your body needs at least that much time to de-program yourself from the all the stimulation of digital devices. (Also, researchers have found that exposure to these digital devices—with their backlit screens—can suppress melatonin, a key hormone needed for restful shut-eye.ʷʷ)
3) Eat some dark chocolate.
There's no shortage of sweets this season, that's for sure. But the kind of sweets you choose—and in what amounts—can affect your stress levels. Research has also shown that sugar can depress the immune system.ʷʷʷ (Not to mention, it can make you jittery, too.) But one study found that eating dark chocolate—about an ounce and a half daily—actually reduces levels of stress hormones over time.ʷʷʷʷ (Dark chocolate is typically considered to be any chocolate that contains 60% or greater levels of cocoa.) So if you need to reach for something sweet, this is a great option.
Nuts are packed with magnesium, which seems to keep cortisol levels low.
Whole-wheat toast with jam is a complex carbohydrate-rich food that raises serotonin levels—helping you be happy and helping to lower your stress levels.
Milk is rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium—all of
which can help keep maintained blood pressure in a normal range.
Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help you de-
Dark chocolate has been shown to reduce levels of stress hormones.
4) Get outdoors.
Whether you walk your dog, hike, ski, or go for a run, just get outside every day. Don't force yourself to do "30 minutes of exercise". While regular exercise is important for your body—and your health—adding something else to your already packed to-do list is not what you need right now. Do what you love and what makes you happy with one requirement: get out and do it in the fresh air. It will invigorate you and help reduce your anxiety. (Fresh air—particularly in the morning—will also help you sleep better at night, which is key to staying healthy and invigorated any time of the year.ʷʷʷʷʷ) But if you can get outdoors with friends, that's even better, as studies show that a strong social network can help reduce stress, too.ʷʷʷʷʷʷ
5) Take your multivitamin—as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
It's hard to get enough of the right nutrients from your diet during the year—and it's even harder during the holidays thanks to all the parties, hors d'oeuvres, buffets, and treats around. I could give you the standard "Eat plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes" advice, but you've already heard that—and know that. Just ensure you're getting enough of the key nutrients that are critical during busy times (these include B-vitamins and vitamins C and E). Other nutrients are important as well: vitamin D—key for strong bones when paired up with calcium—is key for a healthy functioning immune system.ʷʷʷʷʷʷʷ Centrum® Adults daily multivitamin, paired up with Centrum® ProNutrients Omega-3 Minigels, helps give you these key nutrients, and more.
The bottom line when it comes to stress: just enjoy the holidays for what they are—a time to be around family and friends while you have time off from work. At the end of the day, a good laugh among people you love is sometimes the most effective kind of stress relief there is.
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