The holidays are meant to be a time of ease and enjoyment, a special part of the year when everyone can come together in seasonal celebration. But between finding gifts for everyone, travel stress, and the flurry of last minute must-dos, sometimes things can get a little more hectic than you'd like.
This year at Hyperbiotics, we're focusing on bringing the happy back to the holidays by slowing down, trying to be a little more conscious in our actions, and of course, embracing the Danish art of hygge––an intentional focus on embracing indoor winter activities with those you're closest to. And we'd love for you to join us! That's why we've gathered our seven best tips for managing stress this holiday season.
Our Top Tips for a Stress-Free Season
Have you ever found yourself looking back on December and wondering, "What on earth just happened?" If you're not careful, the longed-for respite of the holiday season can turn into a tornado of to-do lists, leaving you exhausted and feeling like you need a break to recover from the break!
While the details change from year to year, the big culprit here is stress: it sneaks up on you, and before you know it, you're strung out, getting frustrated over the tiniest things, and setting yourself up for a whole host of health issues. The good news is, you've got a lot of very simple options for coping with holiday stress. Try these seven tips this year to keep yourself grounded, no matter what the holidays throw at you.
1. Prioritize whole-body self care.
When it comes to reducing stress, a classic saying is, "you have to fill your own cup before you’re able to fill those of the people around you." At no time is this more true than the holidays. With so many demands on your time and energy, it’s easy to let self care slide until the new year (after all, isn’t that what New Year’s resolutions are for?) but this is a mistake with potentially disastrous consequences. You see, if you’re not getting the baseline things you need to stay well, all those demands on you are going to act like charges on an overdrawn account, and eventually, something’s going to break down.
We’re not just talking about you feeling a little moody or needing an extra nap. Stress affects you on a biological level, disrupting your sleep, throwing off your hormones, wrecking your digestion (which then affects the balance of your gut microbiome), and lowering your immunity, to name just a few issues.1,2,3,4 Since it impacts your body so significantly on so many levels, you have to address it with the same thoroughness, which means skipping one-off quick fixes in favor of whole-body self care.
This includes giving yourself physical support, like getting extra sleep and maintaining a gentle exercise routine; mental support, like drinking enough water so your brain can function properly and embracing mindfulness; and emotional support, which you can get from relationships, by augmenting ease and relaxation with essential oils, and with support from probiotics, as your gut bugs are key players when it comes to producing the hormones that keep you feeling good.
2. Stay in the moment.
A great quote from Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Life is available only in the present moment.” It’s absolutely true, and yet, surprisingly difficult to remember when you get caught up in the rush of the holidays. If you find yourself constantly worrying about the past, jumping from one thing to the next, or lying awake at night mentally going over your plans one more time just in case, this tip is especially important for you.
Staying in the moment instantly snaps you out of stress, because, after all, we almost always stress about things that aren’t happening right now. You might worry about that comment you made last week, or feel anxious about how tomorrow’s dinner party is going to go, but you don’t typically get hung up about what’s happening in the present.
Of course, staying in the moment is easier said than done. But one really powerful tool at your disposal is tradition. Traditions ground us in what’s happening, providing just enough structure to keep the mind calm, since they happen the same way every time. What’s more, by participating in a tradition, you get to bring up all those positive feelings associated with it, whether that’s the love you feel when you make eggnog using your grandmother’s favorite recipe or the excitement of trimming the tree with your family. Use these moments to pull yourself back into the present, and watch your stress melt away.
3. Channel gratitude.
Stress and a negative outlook go hand in hand—you become anxious, afraid, or envious, and you get stressed out. Or, you experience bouts of stress that leave you feeling low. Whichever way the relationship happens to be running right now, there’s one sure-fire fix: gratitude. When you take a few moments to foster gratitude, you shift your focus from yourself to the rest of the world, and that immediately lowers your stress levels. (After all, stress is, ultimately, focused internally. If you’re not ruminating, it’s hard to be stressed.)
Science backs this up: multiple studies demonstrate the stress-busting power of gratitude, showing that those who cultivate feelings of gratitude experience more energy, and that feeling grateful may even help you live longer!5,6
So the next time you start to feel yourself sliding into stress, pause. Take just a moment to think about something in your life you’re grateful for—it can be as simple as appreciating the miracle of the breath going in and out of your body. Really let that sensation of gratitude blossom in your stomach, ease into it, and enjoy it. You’ll not only feel less stressed, you’ll simultaneously be addressing some of the main physical symptoms that come along with stress, including under breathing, hormonal issues that are exacerbated by stress and the tummy troubles and low mood they can cause, and blood pressure issues, to name a few.7,8,9
4. Enjoy time with friends and family.
Relationships enrich our lives so much––besides helping us feel good, they also promote better immunity, increase microbial diversity, and may even support longevity!10 The holidays are the perfect chance to get a little top-up of friends and family time…but only if you make a point of actually enjoying your time together. There’s a big difference between sitting around with your friends staring at screens or squabbling with family because everyone’s stressed out, and spending meaningful time together.
Enjoying your together time can be as easy as everyone going screen-free for an hour or two, joining others for a low-key family dinner, or participating in a holiday tradition together. If you’re looking for some inspiration, though, you can’t do better than embracing hygge. This wonderful cultural art has made quite a splash recently, and for good reason: with its focus on slowing down, becoming present in the moment, and deepening relationships with family and friends for a sense of coziness, it’s something we could all use a little more of.
Try experimenting with hygge next time you have people over: there’s no “right” way to do it, but you can do simple things like serving everyone tea in a beautiful cup that feeds both the eyes and the stomach, or even sprinkling some beautifully-scented candles around the room to add some much-needed glow to the dark winter nights.
5. Take a walk.
When the snow is snowing and the wind is blowing, sometimes the last thing you want to do is get outside and weather the storm. But getting outside, even if it’s just for a short walk, is a great source of natural stress relief. In fact, research shows that spending time in nature automatically switches your nervous system into “rest and recover” mode, so just in case you’re one of those people who stresses over your ability to destress, nature’s got you covered.11
This natural source of ease comes with a huge added bonus: when you lower your stress levels, you free up your digestive system to work the way it’s meant to, creating conditions in which beneficial bacteria can thrive.12 And since your microbial good guys are responsible for helping maintain your hormonal balance (including the production of serotonin, which makes you feel happy, and GABA, which balances your response to stress), this starts off a cycle of feeling better naturally.13
6. Prioritize rest.
There’s no way you can feel good if you’re not getting enough sleep; it’s a matter of biology. Even missing out on a little sleep over a short period of time can leave your body reeling—sleep deprivation affects everything from the way your body regulates insulin and the balance and production of hormones, right down to the way electricity flows between the synapses of your brain, all of which can leave you stressed out and snappy as your brain tries to metaphorically run on fumes.14,15
And while getting enough rest is important year-round, it’s particularly salient during the winter months, as our bodies evolved to slow down and rest more when things get colder. So don’t sacrifice your sleep for holiday events, and try to build little rest periods into your day. For instance, if you’re a mom, try taking a short nap while the kids are at school, or get them in on the game by making meditation a part of your family time. Above all, really listen to the rhythms of your body and honor them, especially when they’re telling you that it’s time to take things a little slower.
7. Say no.
It’s oh-so-tempting to say yes to everything during the holiday season. Yes to that party, yes to this outing, and of course, yes to that one thing you really don’t want to do but feel like you should do because the Joneses did it. But the automatic yes is a recipe for stress: saying yes to doing things that you don’t really want to do takes up an enormous amount of mental energy, and you—more often than not—end up feeling drained and resentful.16
This year, try switching things up and saying no to everything you’re not absolutely excited about saying yes to. This could mean saying no to going out when you really want to stay in and get some extra rest. It could mean saying no to a particular obligation at your child’s school that you simply don’t have the bandwidth for. Or it could mean saying no to hosting the family dinner this year.
You can even take it further and turn down bigger things, like saying no to the expectation of giving and getting a bunch of gifts in favor of living a more conscious life and reducing your family's consumption. While it might feel a bit awkward as you start to say no, especially if you're out of practice, it's well worth it––and it's the first step to saying a big "no" to holiday stress!
We're passionate about helping you live your best life, from the tiniest microbial level within all the way up to your outward experience of the entire season. So as we all move forward into this wonderful time of year, remember to try these tips to keep your days merry and bright––and join us in making this year the healthiest, happiest holiday yet!
1. Nakamaru-Ogiso, E., Miyamoto, H., Hamada, K., Tsukada, K., & Takai, K. (2012). Novel biochemical manipulation of brain serotonin reveals a role of serotonin in the circadian rhythm of sleep-wake cycles. European Journal of Neuroscience, 35(11), 1762-1770.
2. Yano, J., Yu, K., Donaldson, G., Shastri, G., Ann, P., Ma, L., . . . Hsiao, E. (2015). Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis. Cell, 163(1), 258.
3. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Parry, N. M., Galley, J. D., Schauer, D. B., & Lyte, M. (2010). Stressor Exposure Disrupts Commensal Microbial Populations in the Intestines and Leads to Increased Colonization by Citrobacter rodentium. Infection and Immunity, 78(4), 1509-1519. doi:10.1128/iai.00862-09
4. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Galley, J. D., Hufnagle, A. R., Allen, R. G., & Lyte, M. (2011). Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: Implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 25(3), 397-407. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.10.023
5. Mccullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(1), 112-127.
6. Dewall, C. N., Lambert, N. M., Pond, R. S., Kashdan, T. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2011). A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(2), 232-240.
7. Kato-Kataoka, A., Nishida, K., Takada, M., Kawai, M., Kikuchi-Hayakawa, H., Suda, K., . . . Rokutan, K. (2016). Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota preserves the diversity of the gut microbiota and relieves abdominal dysfunction in healthy medical students exposed to academic stress. Applied and Environmental Microbiology doi:10.1128/aem.04134-15
8. Allen, A. P., Huch, W., Borre, Y. E., Kennedy, P. J., Temko, A., Boylan, G., . . . Clarke, G. (2016, November 1). Bifidobacterium longum 1714 as a translational psychobiotic: Modulation of stress, electrophysiology and neurocognition in healthy volunteers. [Abstract]. Translational Psychiatry, 6(11).
9. Emmons, R.A., McCullough, M.E. (2004). The Psychology of Gratitude. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
10. Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Turner, R. B., Alper, C. M., & Skoner, D. P. Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychosomatic Medicine, 4, 652–657.
11. Gould van Praag, C.G., Garfinkel, S.N., Sparasci, O. . . . Critchley, H.D. (2017). Mind-wandering and Alterations to Default Mode Network Connectivity When Listening to Naturalistic Versus Artificial Sounds. Scientific Reports 7(45273). doi:10.1038/srep45273
12. Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62(6), 591-599.
13. Bravo, J. A., Forsythe, P., Chew, M. V., Escaravage, E., Savignac, H. M., Dinan, T. G., . . . Cryan, J. F. (2011). Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(38), 16050-16055.
14. Alhola, P. and Polo-Kantola, P. (2007). Sleep Deprivation: Impact on Cognitive Performance. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 3(5), 553–567.
15. Benedict, C., Vogel, H., Jonas, W., Woting, A., Blaut, M., Schürmann, A., & Cedernaes, J. (2016). Gut Microbiota and Glucometabolic Alterations in Response to Recurrent Partial Sleep Deprivation in Normal-weight Young Individuals. Molecular Metabolism, 5(12), 1175-1186. doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2016.10.003
16. Kline, S.L., Floyd, C.H. (2009). On the art of saying no: The influence of social cognitive development on messages of refusal. Western Journal of Speech Communication, 54(4), 454-472. doi: 10.1080/10570319009374355
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.
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