Is Holiday Stress Creeping Up on You?

Try these integrative strategies for stress management.

Posted Nov 04, 2015

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The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, celebration, and good cheer — right? Well, maybe. For many people, the holidays are also a time of great stress.

If you have young children, you may feel pressure to create the same magical experiences you had as a child (or wish you had). If you have complicated relationships with certain relatives, holiday gatherings will bring those to the forefront. If you struggle with your weight or body image, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all of the family dinners, party buffets, and special treats. And no matter what, you probably feel that there isn’t enough time to do everything you’re supposed to do.

So I’d like to give you an early holiday gift: a set of simple strategies to help you get through the holiday season.

Make Time to Relax

First, no matter how busy your day is, take at least a few minutes just for yourself. You can do this in whatever way feels right to you: Get up 15 minutes earlier and have a quiet cup of tea before the rest of the household is up. Relax in a hot bath after a long day of errands. Close the bedroom door and read a few pages of your favorite book.

Guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization can be extremely effective in reducing stress, and they don’t take much time. You can find downloadable audio recordings online. Using one of these techniques at bedtime can help you unwind and drift off to sleep.

If you can carve out a little more time in your schedule, take a yoga class or treat yourself to a massage. You might even make an appointment for acupuncture or biofeedback; search online for practitioners in your area. You deserve an hour of self-care now and then!

Try Supplements

Stress can be tough on both your body and your mind. Nutritional supplements can go a long way toward keeping you balanced and healthy. Try one or more of these and see if it helps you.

  1. Fish oil. A 2013 study by Jason Carter and colleagues suggested that supplements high in EFA and DHA can help people stay calmer in stressful situations. Fish oil may also have benefits for conditions such as heart disease and depression. I recommend starting with a dose of 1000 to 2000 mg of combined EFA and DHA.
  2. L-theanine. This amino acid found in black and green tea can help reduce stress and anxiety, according to a 2008 paper published by Anna Nobre and colleagues. A typical dosage would be 200 to 400 mg per day.
  3. Valerian. This herb is popular worldwide because of its potential to help improve sleep. A 2002 study by Roberto Andreatini and colleagues showed that it may also be useful in the daytime by helping people feel less anxious during stressful situations. Try taking 600 mg of extract or 1 to 2 g of root powder daily.
  4. Ginseng. This herb is widely used to help fight fatigue, boost energy, and reduce the physical effects of stress. A 1996 study by Francesco Scaglione and colleagues suggests that ginseng may also help you ward off colds and flu. Try ginseng tea or use tincture of ginseng you can find in the health food store..
  5. Phosphatidylserine. Preliminary research by Dirk Hellhammer and colleagues (2004) suggests that this supplement could help reduce the body’s reaction to mental stress.  It can also give a boost to memory which can be affected by stress.  Try taking 100 mg daily.

As always, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a new supplement, especially if you take medications or have a medical condition.

Dialing down your expectations for the holidays can make a big difference. Say yes to the most important gatherings — realistically, you may not be able to opt out of Thanksgiving with your in-laws — but don’t feel obliged to accept every invitation you receive. Ask your family members what they would think about scaling back on gifts or planning low-key get-togethers rather than blowout holiday dinners. You might find that other folks are just as stressed out as you are and are relieved when you suggest keeping things simple.

And finally, remember that the holidays won’t go on forever. Before you know it, January will arrive your time will be your own again. Perhaps you’ll discover that some of these stress-management strategies work so well for you that you want to carry them forward into the New Year!