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The leaves are falling and temps are dropping.  Halloween has come and gone and, just like that, we find ourselves on the starting line of the 2022 holiday season marathon!  


Many families are feeling an extra boost of anticipation surrounding the holidays, after minimizing traditional gatherings for the past few years.  With the extra excitement, though, some added stress and anxiety may also come.  So much to do, and so little time.  And even though we value our families, many people sharing small spaces for extended periods of time definitely increases the potential for strain in our relationships!   


Here are some strategies for how to keep our minds, bodies and relationships healthy as we prepare and gather for holidays this year.  

 

1. Don’t skimp on sleep.  Yes, time is short.  But, everything (keeping a positive attitude, making good self-care choices, meeting our own basic needs, etc.) feels harder when we are sleep deprived.  Cut corners elsewhere, if you must, but NOT when it comes to getting the  recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night (for adults).  Good sleep hygiene is critical for sleep quality.  Your sleeping space should be dark, cool and calm.  Maybe this means investing in room-darkening blinds, taking a few minutes to tidy up before bed and/or minimizing screen time.  And if you still struggle to calm that busy mind, try  L-Tryptophan near bedtime.  This amino acid is a precursor for the neurochemicals melatonin (most commonly associated with encouraging healthy sleep) and serotonin, which is one of our “happy” neurotransmitters.     

 

 2. Lean into sustainable coping mechanisms FIRST.  If you have a manageable relationship with alcohol, it’s ok to have a glass of wine with Thanksgiving dinner.  But, before you find yourself drinking just to numb aggravation, try getting ahead of it with a brisk walk, quick venting session with a safe person, or non-alcoholic soothing beverage like chamomile tea.  Preventative and regular consumption of supportive inhibitory (aka “calming”) nutrients like GABA and can build your tolerance to unanticipated stressors, lessening the tendencies of cravings, overwhelm and anxiety.    

 

3.Try Adaptogens!  As the name suggests, herbal adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola and Holy Basil alleviate stress by helping the body adapt to stressful situations.  Stress affects people differently.  Whether you tend to go “low” (feeling unmotivated or depressed) or “high” (anxious and irritable) in the face of situational stress, adaptogens can help keep you feeling balanced.  Another option for those who tend towards anxiety and nervousness when stressed, albeit not an herb, is an amino acid calledL-theanine.  Found naturally in green tea, this compound brings clarity and relaxation.  

Here’s a strategy you can use to help stay in the present the next time you’re overwhelmed or feeling anxious.  Sit or lie down in a calm place.  Engage your senses, one at a time, in a 5-4-3-2-1  strategy, like this:  

  • Focus on identifying five things you can SEE.
  • Next, pay attention to four things you can HEAR.
  • Then, mindfully consider three things you can FEEL/TOUCH.
  • Fourth, notice two things you can SMELL.
  • Lastly (and you may have to help yourself out with gum, a mint or lozenge), hone in on one thing you can taste.  

 

4. Feed your energy production pathways.  As previously stated, the last two months of the year are more of a marathon than a sprint.  Keep your stamina up by being consistent with nutrient-dense and balanced meals, frequent healthy movement and drinking enough water.  Adding  B-vitamins and  antioxidants during periods of higher stress may help you feel sharper and more focused, through their ability to support cellular energy production.  

Along with these healthy habits, exposure to natural morning sunlight, or the use of  bright light therapy soon after waking, has been shown to combat fatigue and aid the management of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Light therapy boxes are easy to find and use.  Mine is a permanent feature on my bathroom counter from November through March.         

 

5. Support your immune system. After all the work and effort you’ve put in, the LAST thing you want to do is cancel holiday plans last minute due to illness. Good sleep, healthy coping mechanisms, buffering stress, rock solid daily habits and superior nutritional supplements fundamentally encourage a healthy immune response.  

However, it doesn’t hurt to add specific immune supports like  NAC, which has been shown to safely  reduce acute respiratory infection severity and protect the lungs from viral injury.  

For cold sore sufferers, the amino acid  L-Lysine may help avoid or minimize outbreaks.  If you are a cold sore sufferer, you may consider reducing/avoiding foods  high in L-arginine at the first sign of a lesion forming.       

 

6. Keep a realistic perspective. To create memories you can look back on fondly, it’s important to keep a realistic perspective on your holiday season schedule and expectations (of yourself and others).  

Rather than giving in to the overwhelm of excessive planning, baking or decorating, simplify!  

  • If you hate cooking, delegate side dishes and support a local small business by buying the main dish.  
  • Support a local school or church’s holiday bake sale.  
  • Don’t go over budget on gifts that won’t be remembered by this time next year.
  • Bring back family cards and board games and thrift store white elephant gift exchanges.
  • Your time, mental health and energy are just as valuable as your money.  Make sure you plan and stick to a budget for these assets, too.  

 

7. Find joy in giving (locally).  Through complex brain imaging studies, neuroscientists have now proven that we get the same kind of “feel good” chemicals released in our brains from  behaving charitably as we do from receiving gifts ourselves.  This confirms that  we are designed to take care of each other, as doing so lights up our brains in areas that create social attachment and joy.  Giving locally has the added benefit of allowing the giver to see the direct and ripple effects of their generosity in their own community.  It’s a gift that keeps on giving.            

Feeling calm,  grounded, and healthy during busy holiday months is possible.  With practical, nutritional and lifestyle strategies like these, you can have your best holiday season yet!     

 

*5-HTP is not appropriate for those taking certain mood management medications, consult your prescriber.



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