By Dr. Mercola
For many, November and December are a favorite time of year, with major holidays bringing family and friends together. But it can also be an incredibly stressful time, as party planning, extra cooking and shopping, not to mention navigating potentially difficult family dynamics, might stretch you to your limits.
Also, since Thanksgiving and Christmas often stands for family togetherness more so than other holidays, it is the time of year when you may become acutely aware of any such voids in your life, magnifying feelings of grief, isolation, loneliness or loss.
Those who have recently lost a loved one may feel their grief particularly intensely during the holidays. Financial woes, health issues, or having unrealistic expectations of making your holiday "perfect" can also tip the scales from a time of joy to a time of misery.
It's important to remember that you cannot divorce your wellness from your emotions. Every feeling you have affects some part of your body, and stress can wreak havoc on your physical health even if you're doing everything else "right."
The classic definition of stress is "any real or imagined threat, and your body's response to it." Celebrations and tragedies alike can cause a stress response in your body, thereby affecting your immune function, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, hormonal balance and more. Grief in particular is increasingly being viewed as a cardiovascular risk marker.
Facing Grief During the Holidays
It may be helpful to remember that your grieving process, whether over the loss of a loved one, a relationship or a pet, is a uniquely individual process, and there's no "right" or "wrong" way or length of time to grieve.
Remain open to the idea that whatever you feel is OK. That said, I'd encourage you to do your best to foster a positive attitude, and to focus on the "higher" emotions of love and gratitude.
Research1 has actually shown that "repressive coping" (i.e. directing your attention away from your negative emotions) after a loss tends to strengthen emotional resiliency.
People who focused their attention on other things and didn't dwell on their grief experienced less depression and anxiety, and had fewer health complaints than those who expressed their negative emotions freely.
This doesn't mean you should ignore the situation by any means. It would be unreasonable to think you could somehow eliminate negative emotions or stress entirely. But whether you're dealing with overwhelm, grief, anxiety, anger or any other negative emotions this holiday season, there are effective tools that you can try that can help you get through it.
EFT to the Rescue
If emotional stress, grief, or anger is a burden to you this time of year, I suggest trying the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to help you remove negative emotions and enjoy the season. Energy psychology tools such as EFT can help you reprogram your body's reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, which tend to become magnified this time of year.
EFT can be used as a do-it-yourself form of emotional acupuncture that balances your body's subtle energy system and resolves unrelenting emotional pain. Instead of using acupuncture needles, you use your fingertips to stimulate specific acupuncture points.
When your energy system is balanced, emotional pain dissolves, allowing you to move past the grief. The basics of EFT can be learned by anyone and can be self-applied, but if you're experiencing complicated grief or want some extra guidance, I recommend using an experienced EFT practitioner.2
Also remember that while grief can feel insurmountable and become all-consuming at times, you can take comfort in the knowledge that virtually everyone is eventually able to move past the dark feelings.
Typically within six months, you'll begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. In the videos below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for stress and anger that may surface during the holidays.
Total Video Length: 24:53
Tending to Your Gut Is Important to Help Combat Stress
Did you know that neurotransmitters like serotonin are found not just in your brain but also in your gut? Indeed, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and suppressing aggression, is found within your intestines, not your brain.
Scientific evidence shows that nourishing your gut flora with the friendly bacteria with fermented foods or probiotics is extremely important for psychological well-being and mood control.
For instance, the probiotic known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 has been shown to normalize anxiety-like behavior in mice.3 Research published in 20114 also demonstrated that probiotics can have a direct effect on brain chemistry, thereby improving feelings of anxiety or depression.
So, do make it a point to tend to your gut this holiday season. This may be of particular importance during Thanksgiving and Christmas if stress, anxiety, or grief makes you overeat (not to mention the fact that Thanksgiving as a general rule is centered around eating large amounts of food, period).
Reseeding your gut with healthy probiotics can actually help counteract some of the negative health effects of indulging in too many sweet foods, although taking a probiotics certainly isn't a carte blanche to indulge indiscriminately. (Remember, sugary foods feed detrimental and/or pathogenic bacteria that can quickly disrupt the balance of your microflora.
Taking a probiotics can help ameliorate this to some extent as long as it's not an everyday occurrence.) If stress-related overeating is a problem for you, you can use EFT for this as well. In the following video, Julie demonstrates how to tap to curb stress-related overeating.
Make Stress Management Part of Your Holiday Plan
Besides EFT and tending to your gut, there are many other stress-management strategies you can employ to help you unwind and maintain a healthier equilibrium. The following are, I believe, among the most important basics.
- Exercise. Studies have shown that during exercise, tranquilizing chemicals (endorphins) are released in your brain. Exercise is a natural way to bring your body pleasurable relaxation and rejuvenation, and has been shown to help protect against the physical effects of daily stress
- Restorative sleep. You can have the best diet and exercise program possible but if you aren't sleeping well your mental health can suffer and it is difficult to make healing progress. You can find 33 tips to help improve your sleep habits here.
- Meditation (with or without the additional aid of brain wave synchronization technology) and/or practicing mindfulness daily
- Schedule time to eat at a leisurely pace, and make sure to maintain optimal gut health by regularly consuming fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement
- Optimize your vitamin D levels. Low levels of vitamin D in your blood have been correlated with increased risk for depression, so optimizing your vitamin D levels may help by providing you with a stronger foundation for both physical and mental health
More Strategies to Lessen Holiday Stress
Here are a few additional strategies that can help you keep your sense of balance during the holidays when stress threatens to overtake you. For even more stress-management tips and tricks, check out the slideshow above:
Embrace the "NO": Be gentle on yourself, and give yourself permission to say "No"… It really is okay to take special time for yourself. If the holidays have you feeling down for whatever reason, indulge in the things that make you feel happy, whether they're holiday related or not. Banish the "shoulds": If a certain tradition causes more stress and discomfort than joy, give yourself permission to do things differently! Remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Thanksgiving (or Christmas). Ban the word "should." Cut goals down to size: Regain a sense of control by scheduling no more than one or two manageable goals per day, even if they're as simple as writing a few cards or cleaning a small section of a room. The satisfaction of completing these tasks can add to your sense of well-being and help you get everything done, over a longer period of time. Seek out positivity: Seek out positive people who make you feel better, and avoid people who add to your stress or contribute to your depression. Divorce the Jones': Focus on what you and your family want to do for the holidays instead of what other families are doing, and prioritize your time accordingly. In a similar vein, make a concerted effort to realign the focus of the holiday to reflect your spiritual or ethical beliefs rather than commercial values. You may need to discuss how you and your family will do this, as it can take many forms depending on your beliefs. This Christmas, shop smarter, not harder: Take advantage of online shopping instead of rushing through malls. If you've got more time than money, make homemade gifts, or give gifts of service instead. Ask for help: If the thought of cooking Thanksgiving dinner gives you a headache, arrange to have friends and family over to help you cook ahead of time or hold a potluck dinner instead. Lower the bar of expectations. Sometimes, it's your expectations that are the cause of holiday frustration and disappointment. To avoid this pitfall, try setting realistic expectations for how people will behave, how the food will taste, and how everything will look. Simply allowing the holiday to transpire without any real expectations, focusing instead on maintaining a positive and grateful attitude, may be the answer you've been looking for. Celebrate the memory of loved ones who have passed. Ignoring the void a certain loved one has left may worsen feelings of grief. Instead, try to incorporate the good memories into your celebration.