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Holiday Stress & Ways to Relieve It

Learn about what stress does to your body and some healthy, 20-minute solutions to manage stress levels during the hectic holiday season.

By Jordan Thomson | Updated 12/05/22

Ahh the holidays are here!

Bring on the cocktail parties.
Holiday light parades.
Family get-togethers.
Shopping dates.
Recitals and performances.
Late night gift wrapping.
Susan’s famous cheesy gut-bomb dip 🤤

As much joy and fun as the holidays bring, it can add a heavy layer of stress for many of us.

And while a little stress is no big deal, too much can wreak havoc on your body and health.

In this article we dive into what stress actually does to your body and some realistic ways to manage the holiday hectic. Take a deep breath and let’s get into it.

Jump to Topic:

5 Ways to Relieve Holiday Stress
When Stress Isn’t Your Friend
Stress and Cortisol
Why Does Cortisol Lead To Weight Gain?
Other Ways to Relieve Stress

Santa experiencing holiday stress

5 Ways to Relieve Holiday Stress

There are countless ways to alleviate stress, just as long as we create a little time for them. Don’t worry, we wouldn’t suggest anything that takes anymore than, well… 20 minutes. 😉

Lift Heavy Weights

Lifting heavy weights may sound counterproductive to managing stress, but it can actually go way beyond that and improve depression. Here is what we know about how strength training can help your mental health:

  • For people with existing health issues, a strength training program reduces depressive symptoms and improves overall mood (1).
  • Strength training decreases the severity of depression for those with diagnosed depression (1,2).
  • As little as eight weeks of strength training works for reducing depression (2).
  • Training two or three times per week is shown to reduce depression (1,2).
  • A decrease in anxiety and improvement in overall mood can be seen as quickly as five minutes after the workout is over (3).
  • A single strength training workout can significantly decrease anxiety (3,4).

To think, just a single strength training session can elevate your mood and greatly improve your anxiety level.

If you ask me, this is an ideal way to prevent oncoming stress in addition to relieving it.

Breathe With Intention

Studies show that slow, controlled breathing positively impacts your central nervous system and psychological state. (5) By practicing various methods of breathwork, you can experience immediate benefits such as relaxation, increased comfort, and reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.

Try one of my favorite methods of breathwork the next time you feel like you need to chill out.

Craft Your Space

You know how amazing it feels to have a clean and tidy house? That’s the idea here. Your surroundings play a big part in influencing how you feel. Environment can be relaxing and inspiring, or stressful and triggering. If possible, make your home or at least one room in the house your own personal sanctuary. Tidy up the cushions, light a few candles and make it a place you’d feel relieved to plop down in at the end of the day.

You might be thinking, this is just another project to do and another thing to have to clean up! Don't worry, I’ve got you!

Identify places outside of the home that ignite those same feelings of relaxation or connectedness. For me, it's the steam sauna, the patio at my local library, and wineries- yes I said wineries! What can I say, I like the way they decorate 😉

Whatever your “place” is, consider it a resource for you to get grounded, create calming moments, and relax when stress seems to be getting the better of you.

Keep Alcohol And Caffeine To A Minimum

Studies show both stimulants increase the release of cortisol when you’re stressed. Instead of reaching for an iced coffee, consider a green tea or kombucha.

Completely eliminating alcohol isn’t absolutely necessary but limiting alcohol consumption to the occasional drink can help improve stress levels as well as sleep.

Sleep

Sleep is quite important in our physical and mental well-being. It’s vital to recovering from workouts and helps to prevent mood disorders and sleep deficiencies. The average American misses out on 300-400 hours of necessary sleep each year, which your body needs to recover from stress.

Reduce the amount of blue light in your room during sleep hours, avoid snacking and boozing before bed. Instead, try reading or exercising closer to bedtime to improve sleep quality. (10)

A couple relaxing on the couch enjoying a book during the holidays

When Stress Isn’t Your Friend

According to The American Institute of Stress, the first thing in managing stress is to actually identify what your triggers are. Some common holiday-related stress triggers can include:

  • Having too many commitments on your schedule
  • Worrying about family members’ wellbeing
  • Feeling like you can’t get to everything in time
  • Experiencing the holidays after losing a loved one
  • Financial hardships
  • Feeling overwhelmed with to-do’s
  • Trouble sticking to healthy habits

But before we can manage stress, let’s first understand what it is and what it is doing to your body.

Stress and Cortisol

When you're under stress, your body produces a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol increases the amount of glucose in your bloodstream to help fuel your body in the event of a “fight or flight” situation. Cortisol also suppresses insulin production, which prevents cells from getting the nutrients they need. This triggers hunger signals to be sent to your brain leading to hunger, overeating, and weight gain.

Why Does Cortisol Lead To Weight Gain?

Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to visceral fat storage (fat under the muscles and around your organs in your abdomen). Cortisol also produces fat cells at a faster rate, which can lead to weight gain and other side effects such as: acne, gastrointestinal issues, joint inflammation and mental health issues.

The solution?

Well, try to stress less. And if you want real, tangible ways to lower your levels this season, try the solutions we covered earlier in this article. But don’t worry, we've got more…

A family laughing together around the dinner table during the holidays

Other Stress Relief Techniques

Give yourself time to unwind daily, otherwise your stress and cortisol levels will remain high. When you are feeling stressed, try one of the following tried and true stress-relieving activities:

  • Walking outdoors
  • Hanging with friends/family (who don’t push your buttons)
  • Meditate/pray
  • Laugh
  • Read a book
  • Listen to calming music
  • Write in a journal

The most important thing to keep in mind here is to take care of yourself. Your physical and mental health are worth investing time in, especially during the hustle and bustle of these last few weeks of the year.

Strength train AND take part in other activities that reduce your stress and add happiness. Connect with your family, spend time in places that make you feel good, create time for your favorite hobbies, and aim to regularly get enough sleep. The holidays can be a stressful time, but remember that you have the power to control your stress levels.
Happy Holidays!

 

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We know strength training is important, but nutrition is also a huge piece of your wellbeing. If you'd like help learning how to implement these new habits alongside your workouts, schedule a Nutrition Intro session today! Email [email protected] to get started.

  • Brosse, A.L., Sheets, E.S., Lett, H.S., & Blumenthal, J.A. (2002). Exercise and the treatment of clinical depression in adults: recent findings and future directions. Sports Medicine, 32(12), 741-760.
  • Bibeau, W.S., Moore, J.B., Mitchell, N.G., Vargas-Tonsing, T., & Bartholomew, J.B. (2010). Effects of acute resistance training of different intensities and rest periods on anxiety and affect. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(8), 2184-2191.
  • Broman-Fulks, J.J., Kelso, K., & Zawilinski, L. (2015). Effects of a single bout of aerobic exercise versus resistance training on cognitive vulnerabilities for anxiety disorders. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
  • Stanton, R., Reaburn, P., & Happell, B. (2013). Is cardiovascular or resistance exercise better to treat patients with depression? A narrative review. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 34, 531-538.
  • Stutz J, Eiholzer R, Spengler CM. Effects of Evening Exercise on Sleep in Healthy Participants: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2019;49(2):269-287. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-1015-0
  • Zaccaro A, Piarulli A, Laurino M, Garbella E, Menicucci D, Neri B, Gemignani A. How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018 Sep 7;12:353. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353. PMID: 30245619; PMCID: PMC6137615.