While children feel a sense of excitement during this time of year, it seems as adults, we tend to lose the magic and instead focus on the stress the holidays brings. This is unfortunate since we all experience way too much stress in our modern world already - and it's killing us...
Search for the term "stress and disease" on Google, and you'll find nearly 600,000,000 results - and with good reason. Nearly every type of disease you can think of can be either caused or exacerbated by stress.
Stress puts your body in "fight or flight" mode, taking valuable resources away from the healing and detoxifying activities that your body needs to engage in on a continual basis to avoid disease. Chronic and ongoing stress causes inflammation, which, as you probably already know, is a major cause of many of our modern diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
So what's the good news?
Well, the good news, of course, is that there is something you can do about it!
While it may not be totally possible to avoid all stress (and you probably wouldn't want to anyway), there are plenty of things you can do to help lower your stress levels and cope with stress in healthier ways, which will improve both your mental and your physical health.
Best of all, they are safe, natural, and (for the most part) totally free! So read on to find out how you can improve your mental health and keep stress at bay, and save your money for those important holiday gifts...
You knew I was going to start with food, right? :) Of course what you eat has an impact on your mental state! After all, when you eat, you're not just feeding your mouth - or even your stomach. You are also feeding your brain.
There are a number of recent studies showing a link between poor mental health and poor nutrition. Eating healthy and nutritious foods can and does help improve your mood - and it can also help you cope with stressful situations.
As a simple example, think of how many times you have felt stressed out and grumpy because you were hungry? Conversely, you likely find it hard to remember a time when you were upset after eating a good meal - at least, these instances are few and far between.
Unhealthy eating habits don't just impact your body - they also impact your mind. So keep that in mind next time you reach for that bag of junk food... Instead, choose healthy, whole, and vitamin-rich foods - and try to keep from binging on sweets, which only lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes - another cause of inflammatory stress.
Stress Reducer #2: Being Grateful
Yes, it's almost that time of year - Thanksgiving is only a week away, which means it's time to count your blessings! (Stay tuned as I'll be sharing my 2017 gratitude list with you soon...)
It may sound simple, but the act of focusing on what you are grateful for is an incredible stress reliever! In fact, it's one of my absolute favorite ways to de-stress and put myself in a better mood. And it's not just me. Psychology Today lists seven key scientific benefits of being grateful:
- Better relationships
- Improved psychological health
- Increased empathy
- Better sleep
- Increased self-esteem
- Greater mental strength
- Improved physical health
Once seen as "new-agey" and a bit hokey, meditation is now coming into its own in the West. In fact, according to scientific research, mindful meditation actually alters both brain and immune function in a lasting way. It may not seem like much, but there is a reason why God said: "be still and know that I am God." We, humans, are meant to take time to rest - not to go-go-go on a continual basis as so many of us do. However you choose to meditate, taking some time to focus inward and leave behind the outward stressors of the world around us is a good thing for both your physical and your mental health.
There are many forms of meditation and many ways to do it. I often find myself most in a meditative state on my yoga mat after a good workout. Guided meditations before bed can help me to sleep better and feel more rested and focused the next day. I also try to meditate on my gratitude list daily. Or you can also try brainwave entrainment audios, which I have also enjoyed on occasion. There are lots of other ways too - meditation is a very personal practice. If prayer is a form of meditation you enjoy, go for it! If you like to meditate on nature while jogging, do it. There's no wrong way, as long as you are fully present in the moment and experiencing all that moment is bringing to you.
Ah yes, exercise - the universal stress-reliever! Not only does regular exercise obviously burn calories and fat and help you look and feel better about yourself, but it also relieves depression and helps you sleep better. Of course, there are all the other physical benefits too, such as weight loss, reduced blood pressure, improved blood flow, detoxification, and more.
Never forget that humans were made to MOVE! Move more, and both your brain and your body will benefit. (Check this page for some fun ways to exercise, and be sure to follow our Holistic Health blog for weekly workouts every Wednesday!)
5. Loving Relationships
With today's hyper-connected world of cell phones and social media, you would think we would all have loads of friends and close relationships, but the reverse is actually true. In fact, instead we are becoming more and more isolated in a way - cut off from the close ties we used to have within our communities. Unlike previous generations, we no longer come together as a group to build barns or houses, to work in the fields, or to share in foods from the harvest or the hunt. In fact, many of us no longer even come together at the dinner table over a home-cooked meal!
Unfortunately, this disconnection is taking a toll on our mental health, leading to increased stress, anxiety, and depression.
So, I encourage you to find joy in your relationships this holiday season. Despite what we may like to think, the truth is we all need each other. It's part of being human.
You may be thinking, "but my family stresses me out!", but I urge you to take a deep breath, use one of the methods above if you need to, and focus on the joys and gifts your family brings this holiday season. And if you truly don't have a healthy relationship with your family and can't find any positives in that environment, find time to spend with some close friends instead. There is honestly nothing better in the world for relieving stress than a good belly laugh among people you love! :-)
Lastly, try to find just a bit of the magic in the season that you saw when you were a child. Enjoy a cozy fire or a cup of eggnog - and really enjoy it, don't just go through the motions. Focus on how wonderful it feels to be with the people who love you. Stop to admire the Christmas lights. Go caroling. Kiss someone under the mistletoe!
While the holidays may not ever be completely stress-free, with a bit of practice and mindfulness, you can get a lot more enjoyment - and a lot less stress - out of this special season.
Happy holidays! :-)
Source: Opinions expressed are my own, but some of these ideas are sourced from Blog.310nutrition.com.