Five Ways to De-stress for the Holidays

By Joe Kirven

o matter which holidays you celebrate, this time of year is already filled with added stress. Days feel shorter, commitments feel longer and patience is thinner. Add a global pandemic and an election year to the list and 2020 is bound to have you stressed out beyond an all-time high.

This holiday season is presenting us all with unprecedented stressors and circumstances that even the most seasoned of party-goers or hosts and hostesses have never encountered. For some, there will be no office parties, Thanksgiving dinners or family gatherings leading to potential isolation and loneliness. Others will debate masks versus no masks, hoax versus real, attend in-person versus online and the list goes on and on. If just reading that list causes a bit of angst and anxiety, the good news is, you’re not alone. We are all feeling a little stressed these days.

Stress is normal, and sometimes good, for all of us. Your body is full of amazing hormones and mechanisms designed to help you survive stressful and dangerous times. You’ve probably heard of the fight or flight phenomenon — a dangerous scenario occurs, and we stay and fight our way through it or run for cover and safety. This is a normal physiological response to a stressor. This response is first triggered by our sympathetic nervous system with the production and release of hormones. Norepinephrine, epinephrine, testosterone, estrogen and cortisol (among others) play a vital role in our body’s response to stress. Again, this response is natural and sometimes life-saving. However, if we allow outside stressors to linger and control our body the effects can be damaging as these hormones are created and/or stored in levels of excess.

It is often the reason we have a hard time sleeping, focusing, eating or remembering things when we are faced with a stressful circumstance like a job loss, divorce, loss of a loved one or a global pandemic. It is when the stressors become constant (perceived or real) that our hormones become so out of balance that we can gain weight, lose mental clarity and have many other physical and emotional setbacks. Our brains literally think we are under attack and prepare us to fight or fly without the actual scenario taking place. Imagine there is a tiger in the woods and you spend your entire life wondering if it will come after you. That’s stressful and would wreack havoc on your mental and physical wellness.

This season, don’t let those hormones build to a level that allows you to damage your body. Turn to a health and wellness routine to help regulate your body’s hormones, lose weight and help keep or re-gain mental clarity and peace of mind. Below are some useful holiday tips for the most avid exerciser to someone who has never worked out a day in their life.

1)  Keep it simple: Don’t overwhelm yourself with an unrealistic task or overly time-consuming workout. Move your body in a way that feels both safe and efficient to you. If you like swimming, swim; dancing, then dance; walking, then walk. Don’t complicate an already complicated time. Moving your body burns calories and releases the feel-good hormones serotonin and endorphins.

2)  Your time is important: Don’t feel obligated to make every party or everyone happy. You owe it to yourself to make YOURSELF happy. If promising to be at too many events causes stress or emotional turmoil, it’s time to take things off your plate. Chances are, the truly important people will be there long after the holidays are behind us and they will understand if you have to take a rain check.

3)  Lift weights, do yoga or pilates: Any form of strength training can help breakdown and build up muscle mass. This again helps regulate hormones but also makes your body more metabolically active. You’ll improve sleep, body composition and create a healthy release for those stress hormones that are building up.

4)  Go for a post-dinner/party walk: If you are meeting in person, make a game of it, especially if holiday meals and treats are the center point of your get together. After dinner, see if you can get outdoors for a family walk or scavenger hunt. Try to not only burn a few extra calories but use it as an excuse to get away from the annoying relative who won’t stop talking about his or her favorite politician winning or losing.

5) Eat (or bring) a healthy plate: Again, food is often the center point of gatherings. Don’t feel the need to eat anything and everything in sight. Prepare a healthy salad or fruit tray to bring so you know there will be at least one healthy option available. Or, eat ahead of time and politely state that you are eating healthy and merely there to enjoy the company.

So whether you’re stressing over awkward questions from your crazy aunt about why you’re still single or just wondering how you’ll manage so many occasions, treats and shopping lists in so little time, be sure to allow your body to release stress and excess hormones. Just ten minutes on a yoga mat or a jog around the neighborhood can do wonders for your mental and physical health.

Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center
750 Cypress Station Dr.
Louisville, KY 40207

Joe Kirven. Photo provided by Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center.

Joe Kirven is a NSCA Certified Personal Trainer with 13+ years of experience at Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center. Joe specializes in Corporate Wellness programming, where he works with companies like LG&E, ISCO Industries and Papa John’s. Joe also specializes in Pilates reformer training. With his wide range of personal and professional experiences, Joe keeps his clients’ programming varied and balanced, with a focus on overall health and wellness. Joe believes that our health and well-being are the key ingredients to living a long and fulfilling life. In his free time, Joe enjoys playing football, basketball and rock climbing with his sons Jacob and Lincoln.

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