Ease Holiday Stress

Woman relaxing drinking coffee by the Christmas tree

‘Tis the season to start holiday preparations. While holidays should invoke feelings of good will and cheer, the season oftentimes brings with it a sleigh-full of stressful feelings well beyond those of glad tidings, comfort and joy for most people, especially women.

In a 2006 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), women (44%) are more likely than men (31%) to report an increase of stress during the holiday season, citing lack of time (69% vs. 63%), lack of money (69% vs. 55%) and pressure to give or get gifts (51% vs. 42%) as primary stressors.

Adding usual doses of holiday stresses stacked on top of those already faced throughout 2020 probably means you may come down with a full-blown case of the “bah-humbugs” long before starting holiday plans.

Stress, including that which results from the holiday season alone, can cause a great deal of health issues, including elevated blood pressure, weight gain and increased cortisol levels within our bodies. Increased cortisol levels are leading contributing factors in heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a host of other serious health consequences.

Your Capital Women’s Care team offers you valuable information on the impact stress has on your mental and physical health, proven health tips you can implement to avoid stress and ways you can successfully manage and keep stress under control so you can fully enjoy the season.

Damage Inflicted by Stress

Stress contributes to many negative physical and mental health consequences. Specific stress effects on our body include:

  • Headaches and migraines. Stress causes muscles to tense. Long-term tension can lead to headache, migraine, and general body aches and pains. Tension-type headaches are common in women.
  • Obesity. The link between stress and weight gain is stronger for women than for men. Stress increases the amount of a hormone in your body called cortisol, which can lead to overeating and cause your body to store fat.
  • Problems getting pregnant. Women with higher levels of stress are more likely to have problems getting pregnant than women with lower levels of stress. Also, not being able to get pregnant when you want to can be a source of stress.
  • Menstrual cycle problems. Women who experience chronic or long-term stress may have more severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms or irregular periods. Some studies link past abuse or trauma to more severe PMS.
  • Decreased sex drive. Women with long-term stress may take longer to get aroused and may have less sex drive than women with lower levels of stress. While not surprising, at least one study found that women with higher stress levels were more distracted during sex than other women.
  • Stomach ailments. Stress can make you crave junk or comfort foods or upset your stomach to the point where you feel like you can’t eat, have diarrhea or vomiting. Common stress-related stomach troubles include cramps, bloating, heartburn and according to a study published in November 2017 in the journal Frontiers in System Neuroscience, even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which affects twice as many women than men. Depending on your body’s response, these ailments can lead to subsequent weight loss or gain.
  • Skin reactions. Stress can lead to breakouts and even itchy rashes and hives.
  • Emotional Conditions. From a blue or irritable mood to more serious mental issues like depression, emotional health suffers when stress is present in your life. In the past year, women were almost twice as likely as men to have symptoms of depression. Women are more likely than men to have an anxiety disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Research suggests women may feel stress symptoms more or get more stress symptoms than men, which can raise risk of depression and anxiety.
  • Sleep problems. Trouble falling or staying asleep is common in women affected by stress.  This is particularly counterproductive as a good night’s sleep often helps ease stress-related symptoms.
  • Difficulty concentrating. Stress makes it hard to focus and be effective in your responsibilities both at work and at home.
  • Heart issues. Stress can negatively affect the entire cardiovascular system.  While it doesn't directly cause high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack, it’s a major contributing factor. Over time, high blood pressure can cause serious health problems, such as stroke and heart attacks. Younger women with a history of heart problems especially may be at risk of the negative effects of stress on the heart. Learn more about stress and heart disease.
  • Lowered immune system response. One of the more complicated physical reactions to stress is the body’s diminished ability to fight off disease, whether it’s a cold or flare-up of a chronically diagnosed condition like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or MS.

Fortunately, there are many things within our control we can do to boost our health and reduce and manage holiday (and everyday) stress within our lives.

Stress-busting Health Tips

Boost your health and fight holiday stress overload with these helpful tips:

  • Enjoy some sunlight each day. Sunlight stimulates serotonin production which makes you feel good and also helps relieve seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which impacts millions in the U.S. yearly.
  • Enjoy peaceful, calming scents. Researchers studying depression have found certain citrus fragrances (orange and lemon) boost feelings of well-being and alleviate stress by boosting levels of norepinephrine, a hormone affecting mood.
  • Plan holiday dates with your partner. Physical intimacy boosts endorphins which diminish stress and raise self-esteem, experts say, as well as raise oxytocin levels, which promotes sound sleep. Plan an exclusive date night or two over the holidays and enlist grandparents to host the kids for a night or two holiday get-away.
  • Walk away worries. The rhythm and repetition of walking has a tranquilizing effect on the brain, decreases anxiety and improves sleep. Aim for a brisk 30 min. walk daily.
  • Maintain daily routines. Whether it’s exercise, book group, or lunch with your favorite pals, maintain and prioritize these routines throughout the holidays to keep you centered and calm.
  • Laughter in large doses is a great medicine. Laughing reduces stress hormones, which in turn helps your immune cells function better.
  • Get rid of traditions and customs inspiring memories or sadness. Begin new customs and explore new traditions, especially if you’re lonely or grieving. Volunteering boosts those facing depression and loneliness and helps maintain health.
  • Turn off technology. The constant buzzing of cell phones and email notifications keep us in perpetual fight-or-flight mode due to bursts of adrenaline. This is not only exhausting but also contributes to mounting stress levels, particularly in women. Turn off gadgets and fully enjoy spending time in the moment with family and friends.
  • Spice up your meals. Hot foods trigger the release of endorphins, natural chemicals that trigger feelings of euphoria and well-being.
  • Enjoy honey’s sweetness. Honey provides an instant dose of pick-me-up energy for the long haul. Research shows its antioxidant and antibacterial properties may improve immunity. Experts note the darker the honey, the more powerful antioxidant gains.
  • Eat breakfast before caffeinating. Caffeine from tea or coffee on an empty stomach can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can cause attention problems and irritability. Eat a healthy breakfast and then enjoy that cup o’ joe before facing your day.
  • Pump up the tunes. Research shows hearing music you love can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. It not only calms but is also good for your heart health.
  • Exercise daily. It may be the last thing you feel like doing during the holidays yet going for a run or hitting the gym can make you feel better. Research found workouts can boost your mood for up to 12 hours.
  • Focus on positives only. The holidays may drive stress levels up, but don't focus on the bad. Negative thinking can trigger your body's stress response, similarly like that of a real threat. Remember it's time to celebrate with family and friends. Keeping an optimistic outlook helps you cope with challenges and subsequently avoids feelings of being stressed out.

Additionally, stress-reducing guidelines can help improve your mindset when planning for your holiday season.

Tips to Ease Holiday Stress

Initiating the following guidelines can help you minimize your holiday stress levels so you can enjoy the season:

Realize perfection doesn’t exist. While glossy home magazines and Hallmark movies depict countless perfect holiday settings, it’s important to realize these don’t exist in the real world. Once you get passed the idea of perfection, you open yourself up to having more spontaneous fun and enjoyment. Rather than baking a batch of perfectly decorated cookies that are the envy of professional bakers by yourself, get your kids and spouse involved in holiday treat-making. Add some favorite holiday music as a backdrop and you create a cherished family holiday moment.

Make a to-do list and be sure to plan your holiday. Budget your holiday expenses, as well as you and your family’s commitment to attending celebrations and purchasing and exchanging gifts. Once you have a holiday budget, devise a daily to-do list to help whittle away holiday jobs like baking, decorating, shopping for holiday celebration foods and gifts a little at a time. Shop early and avoid peak hours when stores are crowded. Doing a little holiday planning each day breaks down the daunting larger task into more manageable chunks which eases stress. Make sure to enjoy some downtime in between celebrations with just your spouse and kids like family movie night or a bonfire and s’mores fest to give everyone in your family a break from festivities.

Say “no” without feeling guilt. Many of us find it difficult to turn down appeals for help, especially at the holidays. It’s perfectly OK to firmly and politely decline such requests without explanation. If you’re asked to help with an event or activity, you can streamline your participation to avoid stress; offer to make a monetary donation in place of baking and delivering 20 dozen cookies, for example.

Enlist helpers. Encourage everyone in the family to help with holiday plans, no matter what age. Kids can help decorate, bake, cook and create gifts for loved ones, friends and teachers. Older kids can run errands and help with gift shopping. The entire family can create holiday treats and decorate. If everyone participates in holiday preparations, you’ll have more time to spend doing memorable family activities and going out with your spouse for a special holiday date night.

Maintain a healthy, consistent diet. The holidays are not the time to start a diet nor the time to start an eating free-for-all. Be mindful of what you eat and include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like fish and chicken and whole foods. Avoid high fat, processed and sugary foods. Maintain regular mealtimes throughout the holidays. If you plan to attend gatherings serving food, enjoy a healthy snack of lean protein and fiber-rich foods like Greek yogurt, apples, handful of unsalted nuts to stave off hunger. Offer to bring a healthy dish to share, avoid eating near food stations and allow yourself a small indulgence to avoid overeating or making unhealthy food choices.

Carve out some “me” time. Doing something you enjoy is a great way to reduce stress. Be sure to make time for yourself everyday throughout the holiday, whether it’s 10 minutes to give yourself a mini facial or an hour immersed in your favorite hobby. Giving yourself time for the things you enjoy helps you to relax and regroup, two key things that help to reduce stress.

Don’t lose sight over what really matters. Peace and goodwill toward all are mainstay holiday messages we can enact upon when feeling stressed. When you experience feelings of being overwhelmed, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does this fit in the grand scheme of things? If you’re frustrated by a long line, remember that it is just a long shopping line and nothing more. Don’t let it spoil your afternoon.
  • Can I use this moment of frustration as an opportunity to reflect? While the cashier rings up those ahead of you, take inventory of good things that have happened today or things you’re grateful for. Chances are the line will move quicker than you expect.
  • Even in stressful moments, can I find a way to turn them into pleasant experiences? Connect with someone else in line with a compliment or kind gesture. Notice what’s around you with fresh eyes and an open mind. Anticipate getting home to your family and enjoying a special meal or activity.

If you feel overwhelmed by holiday stress and its effects, talk with your compassionate team of professionals at your local Capital Women’s Care practice about effective stress management practices. Our community of friendly healthcare professionals are here for you with expert guidance and care to help you beat stress in addition to monitoring your overall health through our dedication and comprehensive, individualized healthcare to help you achieve and enjoy optimal quality and longevity of life.


https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/ https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/good-mental-health/stress-and...

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