A Survival Toolkit for a Very Merry Stress-Free Holiday Season
by Award-Winning Naturopathic Doctor, Stress Expert, and Nutrition Specialist
Dr. Doni Wilson, Author of THE STRESS REMEDY
The most wonderful time of year has arrived, and with it comes the not-so-wonderful added stress in nearly every aspect of our lives, from social events, to end of year work obligations.
Just in time for seasonal stress, help arrives from Dr. Doni – author of THE STRESS REMEDY (a definitive resource to understanding and treating stress-related ailments). Dr. Doni offers five step-by-step approaches to diet, rest, exercise, and more, to help people tap into a well of energy and vitality in their own lives and effectively manage holiday stress.
“Stress is at the root of virtually all of the disorders we experience,” explains Dr. Doni. “One of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing is to rebalance your stress response. I have identified five major ways to turn off the stress response while turning on the relaxation response.”
Stress Remedy Tip #1: Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Love
In the midst of making your list and checking it twice, it’s easy to forget the essential act of caring for yourself first. In THE STRESS REMEDY, Dr. Doni helps us see the warning signs of when too much stress creates excess cortisol (a primary stress hormone) and how to tackle these conditions by taking out time for YOU.
For example, in THE STRESS REMEDY, Dr. Doni helps identify stress symptoms — including worry and anxiety about life, feeling overwhelmed, being emotional, to physical symptoms such as digestive distress, headaches, and more. She explains it is possible to get your body back in synch with simple remedies to take care of yourself. Here are a few self-love approaches she recommends:
- Taking time to plan and prioritize your day
- Enjoying a cup of green tea
- Scheduling a massage
- Taking a hot shower or bubble bath
- Curling up under a cozy winter blanket with a good book
- Listening to music
- Setting a reminder to eat every 3-4 hours and including protein with every meal
- Getting enough sleep
Research has shown that all of these seemingly simple tasks can actually boost our health tremendously. Both reading and drinking tea can decrease cortisol, increase endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles, and improve mood. Reading works its magic quickly: just six minutes of reading has been associated with a slower heart rate and muscle relaxation. Massages have the ability to rebalance the stress response by decreasing cortisol, while also increasing serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps create serenity, optimism, and self-confidence, while dopamine is associated with motivation, excitement, and pleasure.
Stress Remedy Tip #2: Disconnect with Social Media and Reconnect with Loved Ones
Between work obligations, social commitments, and travel plans, withdrawing from our normal routine of Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is often the furthest thing from our minds. In her new book, Dr. Doni outlines that taking occasional breaks from technology is an essential way to restore healthy cortisol levels and improve immune function.
Since the holidays have the added bonus of vacation time and different work schedules, taking a break allows us to take our eyes off the screen and spend times with others face-to-face, which research has shown to reduce stress and even add years to your life. Connecting with others physically or emotionally has been shown to increase oxytocin, a stress-reducing hormone related to bonding. Likewise, research shows that talking with a loved one can decrease cortisol, increase endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles, and improve mood.
As the devoted mother of a young girl, Dr. Doni sheds light on an interesting study in which young girls were given stressful tasks. After completing the tasks, some of the girls were allowed to call their mothers, while others were not. The ones who spoke with Mom showed decreased blood levels of cortisol and increased levels of oxytocin. Girls who hugged their mothers in person had a similar response.
Stress Remedy Tip #3: Boost Brainpower by Adding Superfoods to Holiday Recipes
Several of the main culprits of holiday stress are tied back to food and behavioral eating. Whether it’s to avoid the emotional stress that comes with holiday weight gain, or the dreaded physical response from overindulgence in seasonal treats, a plan for staying healthy can be a vital tool when attacking stress this year.
It’s not mandatory to give up all of your holiday favorites, but in order to help your brain cells recover from stress in the most efficient way, Dr. Doni recommends including these superfoods every day:
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts
- Fatty fish: wild salmon, mackerel, and sardines
- Berries: strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries
- Leafy greens: spinach, kale, chard and more
- Turmeric, otherwise known as curcumin
- Dark Chocolate
Like most people, Dr. Doni is pressed for time, and has a list of go-to healthy places whenever she has a craving:
Starbucks, which is often nearby, and has green tea as well as packages of nuts with dried fruit.
Organic Avenue has many quick solutions from the super food list, including kale salad.
Whole Foods is not just for grocery shopping – you can stop in to grab a super food from the deli.
Now, here’s some news that you will really like: An article in LiveScience reported on a study linking the consumption of one ounce of chocolate each day for two weeks with decreased levels of cortisol. Remember, though, that chocolate can still contain sugar and lots of calories, so make sure you’re eating the chocolate in moderation, and choose dark chocolate!
Stress Remedy Tip 4: Beat Stress by Getting Active and Enjoying Winter’s Natural Beauty
Though the weather outside is frightful, studies have consistently shown that people who make an effort to spend more time outdoors have lower amounts of stress compared to those who don’t. Taking time to exercise, from something as simple as taking a leisurely stroll to activities that are more intense like hitting the slopes, is essential to lowering stress at this time of year.
Between scrambling to get shopping done and meeting the end of year deadlines at work, it can be difficult to squeeze in your normal workout routine. Instead of letting non-activity add on to the stress, get creative and take advantage of nature during this beautiful time of year:
Enjoy the snow by building a snowman with the kids, having a snowball fight, or make snow angels.
Pick a favorite winter pastime in your local area such as sledding, ice skating, collecting pine cones, etc.
Take a leisurely stroll through holiday fair shops, listen to carolers, and admire seasonal window displays.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, think about planning an active vacation and go snow tubing or skiing.
Moving more has been known to lower stress and bring all of the body’s core systems back into balance. Simply spending time in nature has been shown to decrease cortisol, boost endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles, and improve mood.
Stress Remedy Tip 5: Experiencing Seasonal Emotions and Being Fully Present
For many, the holidays can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Anxiety and depression are certainly more prevalent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but there are a number of ways to help alleviate those feelings and re-balance your body’s stress response:
One of the most valuable, yet underrated stress-busting activities is practicing gratitude. While it may seem too simple to believe that merely feeling thankful can make you healthier, research has proven it to be the case.
Understand Emotions are Normal
Another extraordinarily effective way to rebalance your stress response is to fully experience emotion, which is known to stimulate both the hormones and the neurotransmitters that lower stress. Being more emotional during the holidays is completely normal, and research shows that “talking it out” and fully acknowledging them is critical to our health.
Studies show that laughter can lower your cortisol levels while raising your endorphins and oxytocin, relaxing your muscles, and improving your mood. For example, a 1989 study published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences linked “mirthful laughter” with decreased cortisol levels.
Writing in a journal is also a terrific way to balance your stress response
A study published in Psychotherapy Research found that people in therapy who wrote about their emotions had less anxiety and fewer symptoms of depression than a control group of patients that did no writing. The journal-writers also made better progress in therapy.
About Dr. Doni Wilson
Dr. Donielle (Doni) Wilson, a nationally celebrated naturopathic doctor, teaches women, men, and children how to make life-changing differences to improve their health using natural approaches.
Suffering from environmental and food allergies herself, Dr. Doni was inspired to create a specialized approach to food sensitivities and “eating for health” – The Hamptons CleanseTM, a popular, gluten-free nutritional regimen that reduces inflammation, heals leaky gut (a digestive issue that leads to food sensitivities), supports detoxification and weight loss, and brings the body back to a state of optimal health.
In her new book, THE STRESS REMEDY, Dr. Doni discusses how and why we experience stress, its impact on health and wellbeing, and offers expert guidance on how to reduce stress and reclaim optimal health.
Dr. Doni graduated from Bastyr University and is a naturopathic doctor, certified professional midwife, and certified nutrition specialist. Dr. Doni is frequently called upon to discuss her approaches and her research related to stress in the media, as well as at both public and professional events.
She was awarded the New York Association of Naturopathic Doctors (NYANP) Naturopathic Doctor of the Year award and is well-respected in her field for serving as the President and Executive Director of the NYANP for over ten years. She continues to play an instrumental role, leading the effort to license naturopathic medicine in New York State.
Dr. Doni, who is also a single mom, is no stranger to stress, and attributes her good health to mastering how to support the body, by applying science, with food, exercise, sleep and stress remedies.