It’s meant to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ but, when Christmas arrives, the experience can be overwhelming. Trying to get everything ready in time can be very stressful, especially for us women – a third of whom feel more stressed in December than any other month, according to research.
Money worries, family tensions, pressure to socialise, and over-excited children on a sugar high is hardly a recipe for success. And, if you struggle to stay at your happy weight or often turn to food as a way of coping or rewarding yourself, being surrounded by treats and snacks over the holidays might not be your idea of fun.
In the past, I used to get really stressed out at this time of year, because as a family we were faced with the dilemma of where to spend the holidays. Do we go to my mum’s in Venice or do we go to my husband’s parents in Nice? This was always creating some sort of issue with our respective relatives until we got fed up and, finally, came to the decision of spending Christmas here in London, ‘just’ the three of us. It suits us fine -it has been one of the best decisions of my life to be honest- and I find the whole holidays period much more relaxed now!
Managing stress levels is important for your health in the long term because stress is implicated in many different chronic diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems and asthma.
If you’re thinking you don’t fall into the ‘I’m stressed enough to be making myself ill’ category, don’t be fooled. The drip-drip-drip of everyday stress can be as damaging as major life incident-related stress (such as death and divorce), so don’t wait to act. It’s also worth considering that stress makes it very hard to lose weight, and you’re much more likely to store excess weight around the middle.
So, what can you do to keep stress at bay this Christmas if, unlike me, you can’t avoid your in-laws? 😉
Here are my top 5 tips:
- The 10-minute mind trick: Set aside 10 minutes a day for meditation. If you have never tried it before, please give it a go. I was sceptical too at first, but then I tried guided meditation and it really works. I love the free Apps Headspace and Insight Timer as they offer lots of different options for guided mediation. You don’t need to worry about anything, simply find a quiet place for just 10 -or even 5- minutes a day and tune in. Your mind will thank you for it.
- Eat regularly: Erratic eating times and skipping meals can lead to a dip in blood sugar levels, which leads to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s difficult when routines go out the window, but try to stick to three meals (with one or two snacks if you are truly hungry). Base all your meals and snacks on good quality protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds), fruit, vegetables and small amounts of complex carbs (brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat pasta).
- Cut back on alcohol and caffeine: I know this is hard, especially at Christmas when socialising revolves around drinking, but try ditching (or significantly reducing) your alcohol and caffeine intake. Caffeine causes a release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands – the last thing you want if you are already stressed! At first, alcohol might help to relax you when you’re stressed out (by promoting the release of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter), but it is quickly metabolised to sugar that can lead to a restless sleep, which leads me onto my next tip.
- Prioritise sleep: Get into a sleep routine that includes relaxing practices such as taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, light reading or stretching. Introduce a digital detox at least an hour before bed (that means no phones, no TV, no laptops or tablets), so as not to disrupt melatonin production (the sleepy hormone).
- Eat magnesium-rich meals: Magnesium is involved in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body including nervous system regulation and muscles movements. In fact, magnesium has been shown to calm the body, the muscles and to help improve mood. So, eating foods rich in this mineral, such as leafy greens, avocados, sesame and pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, and spinach make a lot of sense if you want to stay chilled!
Most of all HAVE FUN! If things don’t go to plan, try not to worry too much, instead have a laugh and make them into fun memories for the years to come: “Remember when I set fire to the sprouts and you couldn’t stop laughing about it!”