The holidays have arrived, and with them the inevitable sense of holiday stress and panic; so much to do, so many places to be and not nearly enough time.  Between shopping, parties, lines and travelling, it’s no wonder our cortisol levels go through the roof.  But the holidays don’t have to be a seasonal panic attack.  With a bit of planning and taking time to actually enjoy them, it is possible to regain a bit of sanity this December.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep is the best treatment for stress at any time of the year.  Sleep allows our bodies and brains to rest and recover from our hectic and busy lives.  Poor sleeping habits can cause increased levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and poor blood sugar control, all leading to irritability, fatigue, cravings and more stress.  Getting a solid 8 hours of sleep every night not only reduces your stress levels, but also reduces your risk for developing chronic diseases such as diabetes. So when you’re planning your holiday schedule the year, make sure to make room for sleep.  Your body and your family will thank you.

Eat Well

The holidays are full of all of our favourite vices – alcohol, fat, sugar and over-indulgence.  While it is always ok to let loose and enjoy a good meal with those you love, you can quickly get too much of a good thing.  Over-indulging leads to more stress not only because of the guilt associated with it, but also because of the effects it has on blood sugar.  Our blood sugar and stress hormones are partially regulated by the same organs in our body – the adrenal glands.  When we eat a lot of sugar (i.e. that second and third piece of cake) our blood sugar levels increase.  The reaction of the body is to secrete insulin to push sugar into the cells.  This often leads to a crash in blood sugar levels (also known as reactive hypoglycaemia), which is perceived as a stressor on the body.  The response of the adrenal glands is to send out a large amount of stress hormones (adrenalin and cortisol) to return blood sugar levels back to normal.  The result is more stress hormones in the body and all the symptoms we know are associated with stress. So give your adrenal glands a break this year and follow the tips provided in my last article “Eating Healthy over the Holidays:” Drink water, don’t skip meals, eat seasonally, eat slowly and have fun.

Say NO

Every time you turn around, you’re being invited to another get together, where you are expected to bring a gift or treat.  The best bet for your stress levels is to learn to say “NO.”  The politeness and manners that have been ingrained into us makes this a difficult tip to follow.  But really, what’s the worst thing that can happen?  Your friends and family would much prefer that you are pleasant to be around, when they do get to see you, and that just might not be possible if you spread yourself too thin.  So before committing to any social engagement, make a list of the dates and locations of the various events you are invited to, and PRIORITIZE.  Split up your calendar into “Yes”, “Maybe” and “No” categories.  Only commit to the events that make you happy and excited to think about and skip the ones you dread.  Make arrangements to see people you want to see and spend time with.  The holidays are, after all, about enjoying the company of those you love, not suffering through a night with people that make you cringe.

Stay Active

When things get busy, the first thing to go is often exercise.  But the best way to manage stress levels, especially in times of extreme stress, is to set aside time every day to exercise.  Whether it’s going to the gym, a long walk, skiing, snowshoeing or skating, the key to maintaining sanity over the holidays is to keep moving.  It will not only blow off some of the holiday steam, but it will help stabilize blood sugar and improve quality of sleep, which, as you can now appreciate, all greatly reduce stress.  So when the calendar’s out and your figuring out this year’s holiday schedule, make sure you add at least 30 minutes a day of physical activity.

Make Time for You

With all the parties, dinners and shopping, it’s hard to get any “you” time in during the holidays.  But often, just 10-15 minutes of solitary, quiet time is enough to rejuvenate and go back to the madness with fresh eyes and renewed vigour.  So when things are getting overwhelming and you feel like you’re going to snap, take a break from it all – go somewhere quiet, take a deep breath and remember what this time of year was meant to be – a holiday; a time to celebrate.  Keeping that thought in mind, you’ll be able to put all the stress behind you and do just that –   Celebrate and have a fun holiday season!