Managing Holiday Stress: 7 Tips to Actually Enjoy the Holidays This Year

Whether this holiday season looks different than any you’ve had before, or you’re carrying on with family traditions and gatherings, this time of year tends to drop at least a little extra stress on our shoulders. 

You’ve had plenty of years where you’re running around at the last minute, buying gifts, gathering the necessary ingredients for your special holiday dishes, and probably losing out on a little sleep wondering how you’re going to get it all done in time. 

So what if you made this the year that you prioritized yourself? If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we should all be paying more attention to our health and self-care. So use the tips below to take the time this year to destress, relax, and enjoy the season with family and friends, in whatever way you can. 

7 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress in 2020

Approach the Season with Gratitude

Practicing gratitude has actually been clinically shown to destress our bodies. According to Psychology Today, a regular gratitude practice can actually lower cortisol––the stress hormone––in our bodies by 23 percent [1]. That’s a pretty significant result just for saying thank you!

What does a gratitude practice look like? Whatever you want it to, really. You can write down a list of things you’re grateful for in a journal, run through a daily list in your head on your morning walk (double stress relief––gratitude and exercise!), or simply be present and notice little things to be grateful for as they come up throughout your day. 

However you chose to do it, be grateful for the good moments of this year, and reflect on the lessons you learned in 2020. (C’mon, we know there were at least a few.) Once you’ve recognized them and thanked them for teaching you, you create mental space for new (and hopefully good) experiences in the coming year. 

Choose a Nutrient Dense Diet (With a Few Indulgences)

Prioritize protein, healthy fats and the most digestible and nutrient dense carbohydrates. In the winter time, our bodies crave warming, comforting meals, so go for soups, stews, and roasts in the weeks leading up to the holidays. Prioritize your nutrition in the weeks before, and you can feel free to take part in a few holiday treats without stress or guilt. 

Holidays are meant to be enjoyed! Feel free to indulge in a few treats like holiday cookies, rich meals, and even a festive beverage or two. It is healthier to eat “unhealthy” foods without stress rather than deprive yourself of enjoyment and harbor bitterness toward the kale salad you’re eating instead of your favorite mashed potatoes.

Celebrate Holiday Traditions Old and New

Keep it simple: choose a few holiday activities you can commit to and let go of the rest. Prioritizing a few activities that you love most instead of forcing yourself to try to recreate holidays past by cramming in every fun activity (for yourself or your family) will create a more enjoyable, less stressful experience for everyone. 

And maybe you’ll find a new tradition this year. (A cross-country family Zoom game night perhaps?) Sometimes it’s when we’re forced out of our usual traditions that we end up making the best memories for many holidays to come. 

Incorporate Easy Movement

Think your daily HIIT workouts are helping you sweat out your stress? Think again. Research shows that highly intense exercise (at 60-80% maximal oxygen uptake) significantly increases cortisol levels and adds stress to the body rather than decreasing it. However, low intensity exercise (at only 40% maximal oxygen uptake) actually lowers cortisol levels [2].

So during this heightened stress time, go for easier forms of movement like walking, yoga, and even simple stretching. Your body and mind will thank you for it. 

Support Your (Gut) Health

It’s no secret that stress can have a devastating effect on the gut-brain axis, the superhighway that signals to your gut when to release digestive enzymes and secrete stomach acid, digest your meals to absorb nutrients, and initiate peristalsis to move that food along through the small and large intestine. And your gut communicates back to your brain, too, producing neurotransmitters and signaling to your nervous system whether you should be prepared to run away from danger or rest and relax. 

When we are chronically overwhelmed by stress––which most of us are these days without realizing it––those signals from the gut to the brain and vice versa become frantic and launch our nervous system and hormone production into overdrive. This leads us to become even more stressed. (You guessed it, increasing cortisol again.) The destructive cycle continues, leading to long-term issues like hormonal imbalances, gut dysbiosis, and lowered immunity [3]. 

So what can we do to support the gut, which will support our overall stress response? One option is to increase the diversity of the microbiota, the collection of bacteria and fungi that resides in our digestive tract. Butyrate has been shown to be a powerful short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that helps maintain the delicate lining of the gut and support a healthy and diverse microbiome.* [4]

We naturally produce butyrate in the gut when we eat resistant starches such as cooled rice, cooled potatoes, and under ripe bananas. But when was the last time you ate any of these foods? Most of us aren’t getting enough of this powerhouse nutrient. 

BodyBio Butyrate provides an extra dose of this SCFA to support your gut health––and therefore your immune, mental, cellular health, and more.* Check out this post for more info on the power of butyrate, and stay tuned for more on stress and the gut in 2021! 

Engage in Mindfulness

Mindfulness and holiday stress go together like a toasty cozy fire and a wild winter blizzard. It warms you up and relaxes your soul even while the world outside seems chaotic. So what does it mean to be mindful during the holiday season? Some general guidelines to follow are:

  • Focus on what you can control and let go of what you cannot. (i.e. how your family can create new holiday traditions vs. what your in-laws think of you not travelling hundreds of miles to celebrate with them this year)
  • Stay in the present; don’t let your mind wander to future what-ifs. 
  • Set aside time for (guided) meditation or meditative activities (sewing, cooking, plant care, journaling, etc.).
  • Appreciate nature.
  • Savor your meals; chew slowly.
  • Reconnect with family and friends and really listen to each other.

The more present and mindful we can be with ourselves and those around us, the less likely we are to succumb to anxious thoughts or autopilot busyness that increase our stress levels. 

Practice Self-care

Have a luxurious skin care routine that you rarely make time for? Enjoy a warm bubble bath? Have a standing Zoom call with your college buddies marked on your calendar? Love decorating your home for the holidays? These are all great examples of self-care, and their importance for lowering your stress is even greater during the holiday season. 

As important as your diet, exercise routine, and key supplements are to maintaining low overall stress, it’s these moments of self-care that can make lowering stress more enjoyable and not just another task on the to-do list. 

So take time for yourself this holiday season, you more than deserve it! 

Stress Less, Enjoy More This Holiday Season

To recap, less holiday stress looks like: 

  • Practicing daily gratitude
  • Prioritizing a nutrient-dense diet
  • Celebrating new and old holiday traditions
  • Incorporating easy movement instead of intense workouts
  • Supporting your gut 
  • Staying mindful
  • Making a habit of self-care. 

From everyone at BodyBio, take care, stay healthy, and happy holidays!

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