The holidays are a wonderful time for loved ones to come together. They are intended to remind us how blessed we are to have a community of support and love within reach. It can also be quite the challenge to put into practice all that we’ve learned around mindful living. It sometimes only takes one comment, one word, one look to trigger our emotional body into a place of reactiveness. Growing up in a conservative family from west Texas, it became very hard for me to stay grounded and loving throughout any gathering while being witness to so many things that challenged my current way of living. Many arguments, tears, and uncomfortable conversations later – I’m here to share some practices that have helped me deal with the stress that family gatherings can stir up around the holidays.
Something that is super important to me in aiding to my stress response is making sure I’m properly nourished and well slept. These two things can play a huge role in how we’re feeling. Stress directly affects the nervous system, which, in turn, affects the digestive system among several other things. Getting foods full of B vitamins supports the nervous system and the production of neurotransmitters which are referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that can be produced when consuming leafy green veggies containing folate (like spinach), and can aid in keeping you calm, cool and collected. Additionally, you can reach for berries which are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients that help fight against stress related free radicals. The antioxidants found in berries can help reduce blood pressure, a significant contributor to stress. Speaking of antioxidants, these magical substances are also found in dark chocolate! Win! Having just a small amount of dark chocolate (not the whole bar) can reduce cortisol in the body in addition to helping regulate blood pressure. CBD is a great stress relief tool that can be applied topically or taken orally. Using CBD can help the brain and body access mood regulating chemicals like serotonin so they can be used more efficiently and return the body to a naturally balanced state. CBD has also been shown to increase the brain’s hippocampus, which can shrink when a person is really anxious, depressed, or stressed.
Another factor that plays into blood pressure regulation is SLEEP. Getting adequate sleep in general, but especially during the holidays, is crucial. When you aren’t getting the sleep your body needs, stress hormones are produced and a vicious cycle ensues. The more stress hormones that are made by lack of sleep directly contribute to your inability to fall asleep the next night. They continue production into your day with the peak being in the afternoon/early evening when the body should be winding down in preparation for sleep. This can make you irritable and more likely to snap at your loved ones. So do yourself and everyone else a favor, get some sleep.
If we can find the time and space to ourselves to practice yoga, breathing techniques, and even meditation – they can improve our body’s ability to handle stressful situations. Studies show that even as little as 10 minutes of meditation each day can help decrease anxiety and significantly reduce stress. Other studies have shown both increases and decreases in brain cell volume in different areas, one being a decrease in the amygdala which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and, you guessed it, – STRESS. There are a ton of benefits to getting into a regular meditation routine, and stress control is a key part of that. When we meditate, we are focusing on our breath, mindfulness, and controlling the brain from wandering off to unnecessary thoughts. When we begin to focus on taking deeper fuller breaths, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated and more oxygen flows to the brain. This lowers our blood pressure, slows the heart rate, and puts us in a calmer state. Yoga is a great way to combine both mindful meditation, breath awareness, and movement. All of these things together can create a sensation of calm and relaxation.
So this holiday season, make sure you and your loved ones are all eating stress-reducing foods, taking deep breaths, getting adequate sleep, and taking some time to practice mindfulness & movement. These will all help everyone relax and enjoy each other’s company, the way the holidays are meant to be spent!