Holiday stress can do more than ruin your favorite festivities. Research shows that during winter holidays such as Christmas Day, an increase in stress, depression and other factors cause a spike in heart attacks. Other winter holidays like Hanukkah experience a similar increase. Overall, the incidence of heart attacks is highest between Christmas and New Year’s, compared to any other time of year.1-3
Between the planning, spending, long-distance travel, social engagements, family dynamics, winter preparations, and other factors, it’s easy to get exhausted and burned out. Add in seasonal immune challenges, dietary indulgences, and less sunlight to boost your energy and mood, and you get the perfect storm of stress and exhaustion that can leave you feeling frazzled, and put your health at serious risk.
This doesn’t mean we can’t relax and find more peace and joy during the winter holidays. With simple, nourishing practices and healthy stress-relief strategies, we can enjoy ourselves and loved ones, while we support immunity and overall health during the cold weather months. Here are my suggestions for stress management this holiday season.
Holiday Stress Management Tips
The first step in managing holiday stress is to build a strong foundation of healthy habits. Having a stress management plan can help support your health and keep your energy strong during this taxing time of year. These tips can be incorporated into your stress relief routine to ensure you stay grounded and relaxed.
- Prioritize sleep
Deep sleep is our key to rejuvenation and healing, and goes a long way to defend against mental and physical stress. Without proper sleep, levels of the stress hormone cortisol spike, immune function is reduced, and brain power is impaired similar to alcohol intoxication. Experts recommend 7-9 hours per night for the average adult.
- Exercise for Stress Relief
In addition to healthy sleep, regular exercise is a must for managing stress and keeping your energy and immune system in top shape. Also, exercise is important to mitigate the increase in calories that most of us consume during the winter holidays. If the cold weather is keeping you from your normal workout routine, switch to indoor exercises like yoga, Tai Chi, or weights, all of which can help reduce stress, boost mood, and enhance total-body health.
- Manage Cravings
Plan to fill up on fiber-rich, nutrient-dense snacks and foods such as fresh vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. These foods help cut cravings and keep your will power strong, by preventing blood sugar crashes that make us susceptible to overindulgence in holiday sweets and treats. Research shows that eating fruits and vegetables every day can significantly boost your mood.4
- Mind Body Relaxation
All too often, we accept anxiety and stress as unavoidable byproducts of our fast-paced, modern lives. We’re so used to being stuck in survival mode, that it becomes our normal baseline. This is a dangerous state to be in—ongoing stress can significantly derail our health and hinder our natural healing abilities. When we can break out of survival mode with proven practices like meditation, we can not only put an end to the cycle of chronic stress, but also unleash our innate healing capacities and experience greater health, energy, and happiness.
Countless studies show that regular meditation practice can benefit mood. Practicing meditation on a daily basis, even for just ten minutes, can break the cycle of negative thought patterns and stress that we’re often habituated to.
Some people have a hard time starting meditation, because it feels like you’re doing nothing. But in order to reach our inner calm, we need to get past the mental chatter and quiet our inner critic. Meditation can be as simple as taking 10 to 20 minutes to sit quietly and focus your attention on slow, deep breathing. This humble yet powerful method is shown to significantly reduce stress, improve mood, reduce inflammation, and improve key areas of health.
- Try Mood and Stress Supplements
In addition to nutrition, restful sleep, regular exercise, and daily meditation, herbs and nutrients can also make a difference for keeping stress levels to a minimum and boosting mood and energy.
Supplement with vitamin D3—the “sunshine vitamin.” Depending on where you live, sunlight can be scarce during the winter, and our vitamin D reserves become depleted. There is evidence that vitamin D deficiency contributes to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), aka the “winter blues”. 5
B vitamins support neurological wellness, and can help reduce stress and depression. One clinical study showed that B complex improved mood and reduced stress in people over a period of three months.6
Another great relaxation supplement I use in my practice is the botanical extract pure honokiol. Derived from magnolia bark, honokiol crosses the blood-brain barrier works on GABA receptors to support relaxation, mood, brain function, and inflammation, and overall neurological health. Pure honokiol demonstrates significant antianxiety activity, without causing dependency or side effects. It’s also a powerful antioxidant with numerous additional benefits.7
By adopting a holistic anti-stress routine, we can defend our mental and physical health and energy, and enjoy the magic that this season can bring. In addition, these nourishing habits can help us sail into the New Year with greater health and overall vitality. And that’s something to celebrate!
Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, happy Holiday season.
Olsson A, Thorén I, Mohammad MA, Rylance R, Platonov PG, Sparv D, Erlinge D. Christmas holiday triggers of myocardial infarction. Scand Cardiovasc J. 2021 Sep 29:1-5.
Kloner RA. The “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” phenomenon. Circulation. 2004 Dec 21;110(25):3744-5.
Phillips DP, Jarvinen JR, Abramson IS, Phillips RR. Cardiac mortality is higher around Christmas and New Year’s than at any other time: the holidays as a risk factor for death. Circulation. 2004 Dec 21;110(25):3781-8.
McMartin SE, Jacka FN, Colman I. The association between fruit and vegetable consumption and mental health disorders: evidence from five waves of a national survey of Canadians. Prev Med. 2013 Mar;56(3-4):225-30.
Premkumar M, Sable T, Dhanwal D, Dewan R. Vitamin D homeostasis, bone mineral metabolism, and seasonal affective disorder during 1 year of Antarctic residence. Arch Osteoporos. 2013;8(1-2):129.
Stough C, Scholey A, Lloyd J, Spong J, Myers S, Downey LA. The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2011 Oct;26(7):470-6.
Woodbury A, Yu SP, Wei L, García P. Neuro-Modulating Effects of Honokiol: A Review. Front Neurol. 2013 Sep 11;4:130.