3 Simple Things You Can Do to Decrease Holiday Stress

*Note: If you’re committed to reducing your stress and staying grounded throughout the holidays, join me for my free 21-Day Healthy Holiday Challenge, where each day I’ll send you quick, bite-sized content you can easily incorporate into your day to help keep you grounded and centered so you can navigate the season smoothly and with more joy. It kicks off December 10th (so it will take you right through January 1st), and best of all, it’s simple and FREE. Consider it my gift to you this season. You can sign up below. Much love to you and yours! 

This time of year tends to bring on the stress for just about everyone. It seems there are tons of factors that contribute to holiday stress that, when combined, can knock us out of balance. But if we keep some tips and tricks in mind, we can maintain our balance and stability as the season kicks into gear. 

Because we are dynamic beings, these tips hit on three main areasNutritionBody, and Mindset, so that we can ensure we have all the resources we need to keep inflammation down, boost our gut health, and manage stress in a healthy way during the holidays – and beyond. 

Here we go! 

3 Simple Things You Can Do to Decrease Holiday Stress

Tip #1: Make smart sugar choices. We all know what it feels like to over-indulge with sugar: the brain fog, the inflammation, and of course the cyclical desire to crave more of it. Not to mention the sugar hangover and the stress it puts on your body to process. But how do we avoid this during the holidays, when it seems to be in our faces at every turn (and on every plate)?

There are some simple ways we can minimize our sugar intake this season so we have less damage control to do for our bodies and minds.

First, if you’re doing your own baking, you can swap out white sugar for coconut sugar. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index, meaning it doesn’t spike your blood sugar the way that cane sugar does. While cane sugar is empty calories, good quality coconut sugar has antioxidants and minerals in it, like calcium, iron, zinc and potassium. It also contains a type of plant fiber which is why it is so good for slowing down the absorption of glucose. And for those who haven’t tried it and might be wondering, it does not make your baked goods taste like coconut. (I am actually not a fan of coconut, and I never notice any coconut taste.) You could also use honey as another alternative in your recipes to white sugar (just use about ¼ less honey than you would sugar). 

Next, you can be mindful of the other less-obvious places that sugar is lurking: you’ll find it in fancy holiday drinks, in breads and starches, and added in things like dressings and marinades. If you’re out and about, you can make mindful choices as to what you eat and drink and save your “sugar spending” (so-to-speak) for the places that count. For example, at a restaurant you could skip the bread and ask if they have a gluten-free menu to order for dinner. If you’re planning on an alcoholic beverage, you could choose a dark red wine, like cabernet, which tend to have less sugar than lighter reds and whites. These small choices add up! 

Finally, you can take inventory of situations you’ll find yourself in this season. If you’re at a party or hosting there are of course ways you could occasionally indulge in a healthy way; the trick is to have the good outweigh the not-so-good. You can maintain balance by being conscious of what you put into your body the rest of the time when you’re not at a social event or celebrating with family, such as for breakfasts, lunches, and normal dinners at home.

For example, purchase dressings with no sugar, make it a point to not have dessert after regular meals, and swap daily drinks with water or black coffee. (Here’s a free pumpkin spice creamer recipe for you to try that is low in sugar and dairy-free.) And when you do indulge, make sure you have some protein with it so that a) your body can better process the sugar, and b) you’ll eat less of the sugar, since you’ve already filled up on some of the good stuff, too. 

Tip #2: Circle the breath. This might be the simplest and most effective trick you can know, so if you choose only one of these tips to use this holiday season, let this be it. 

Stand up with your feet about shoulder-width apart with your arms at your sides. Take a nice deep inhale while circling your arms out to the sides and up overhead with your palms facing up, then exhale, moving your arms down the front of your body, palms facing down. Repeat this 9, 18, or 36 times. If you’re in a pinch, even three times will be effective in lowering your stress on the spot.

In both Tai Chi and Qigong, the movements are effective when you combine them with a visual in the mind, and coordinate the breath. So, for the visual, imagine the energy in your body traveling up the back of your spine on the inhale, then down the front of your spine on the exhale. Inhaling up the back, exhaling down the front. You could also put a slight bend in your knees so that they straighten up on the inhale, and bend slightly on the exhale. 

Doing this exercise of circling your breath centers your energy and brings you clarity of the mind and ease in the body. It’s perfect for stressful situations, when you need a break, or when you’re looking to unwind. If you’re out at a party or a meeting and feeling stressed, but can’t do the movements, you can close your eyes for a moment and just focus on your breath and the visual. 

Tip #3: Schedule 10 minutes of silence each day. Much of the time we are on-the-go, and even when it comes to exercise, we’re still moving. While exercise is of course excellent in reducing stress from the day, the practice of intentionally sitting in silence reduces your accumulated stress.  It de-excites your nervous system, which in turn decreases your metabolic rate and acts as a cleaning crew to come in and power-wash the stress that has built over time. And there’s a growing body of research that shows slowing down and sitting in silence can also reduce pain, increase focus, improve digestion, help with insomnia, and much, much more. 

There was a period during my daughter’s treatment where things were particularly intense: she was at clinic multiple times per week to receive transfusions and infusions, and at home, I had to administer shots of additional chemotherapy multiple times per week. Storing the chemo in our refrigerator, ensuring the dosages were correct, ever so carefully administering it to her (at the correct pace and at the correct time) were just a few things I had to focus on, as well as properly disposing of it. (Nothing quite like trying to not trip over the “hazardous waste” bin on your floor while trying to make lunch.) On top of that, both my children were home being schooled virtually. 

All of this, plus keeping them fed and cared for were consuming all of the stores of energy I had. But for ten minutes each day I made it a point to go up to my bedroom, close the door, and lay on my floor in silence. It was literally all I could do to ground myself. 

I would use the Breathing App and set it for 10 minutes, and just take that time to lay in silence and focus on my breath. 

These pauses are so important because they put space between the stressors and allow your body to recalibrate. 

So if you can, right now, set a recurring notification on your phone each day to take a ten-minute pause. Download the Breathing App, or any other app that helps you simply track your time (Insight timer is great as well).

Please don’t skip this – it is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself this season. 

If this idea doesn’t work for you or if you don’t like focusing on your breath, use the same daily reminder and for ten minutes, focus on what you’re grateful for in your life. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude for even minutes a day can effectively raise your IgA levels. 

Dr. Joe Dispenza discovered this when he measured it at one of his advanced retreats. He shares: “… IgA is a protein, one of the strongest building blocks of life. IgA is responsible for the healthy function of our body’s supreme internal defense system called the immune system. It’s constantly fighting a barrage of bacteria, viruses, and organisms that invade and/or are already living within the body’s internal environment…We discovered at the conclusion of the event that the cortisol levels of our participants dropped by three standard deviations, and their IgA levels shot up on average from 52.5 to 86. These are significant, measureable changes.”

In Dr. Joe’s study, participants focused on gratitude three times per day for 10 minutes each time. If this is new to you, set your goal for one session per day, and slowly increase it to three times per day if you can. At the very least, it feels really, really good to focus on what you’re grateful for – even things you haven’t received yet! Your body responds to the thought, not necessarily the reality, which is why this exercise is so effective. 

There you have it: three of my favorite tips for navigating the holidays with less stress, and more grounding. I hope this helps you. Thanks for staying with me – more good stuff to come! 

-Ali 

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