by Jenny Smiechowski –
Christmas carols tell you that the holidays are the happiest, jolliest, most wonderful time of year. The problem is, they don’t always feel that way…
Stress and depression are more likely to strike during the holiday season (1). And it’s no wonder considering the social, financial and family pressures we all face this time of year.
An overloaded social schedule, an overdrawn bank account and tense interactions with family members can easily send you into a seasonal stress spiral that can make you miss out on the wonder, excitement, and beauty that make the holidays so magical.
Even worse, holiday stress and depression can take a toll on your physical health too. Research shows that stress and depression impair your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to disease…just what you need at the height of cold and flu season (2).
But there are simple, natural ways to combat holiday stress so you and your family can stay happy and healthy this holiday season. Here are nine effective ways to show seasonal stress and depression who’s boss, so you can reclaim your holiday spirit:
Simplify your holiday
The best way to combat holiday stress is to stop it at its source. If you know that committing to too many holiday parties stresses you out, say no to a few. If holiday shopping makes you feel frazzled about your finances, get crafty and make people inexpensive but heartfelt homemade gifts (Pinterest is a great place to look for ideas). Think about what stresses you out the most during the holidays, then do what you can to simplify. That will make the holidays less overwhelming and more fun like they’re meant to be.
Research shows exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress and improve your mood. That’s because it promotes the release of mood-boosting brain chemicals called endorphins (3). Scientists say exercise can even alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression (3). And if you think you don’t have time to exercise on top of all your other holiday commitments, research shows that even five minutes of aerobic exercise eases anxiety and stress (4).
Eat healthy, feel-good foods
Eating a healthy diet will make you happier, more energetic and less moody. But during times of added stress, you can go one step further than just eating healthy in general. You can choose specific foods that are known to fight stress and improve your mood. Foods that are high in vitamin C, like berries, oranges, and broccoli, help combat stress, for example. (5). And foods that are high in omega-3s, like fish, walnuts, and eggs, are known to boost your mood and ward off depression (6).
Try stress-relieving scents
Certain essential oils can calm your mind and improve your mood. For example, research shows that essential oils like bergamot, frankincense, and lavender can lift your mood—especially when combined (7). And the combination of lavender, ylang-ylang, and bergamot can calm your mind and relieve worry (7). Studies also show that clary sage can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression (7). So purchase some stress-busting essential oils and add a few drops to an essential oil diffuser in your home this holiday season. You could also add a few drops to a hot bath or shower, or put a couple of drops on a piece of cotton or cloth and tuck it into your pocket or purse for stress-relief on-the-go (8).
Take time to unwind
It’s important to set aside a few minutes every day for relaxation—especially during the holiday season. Do a 10-minute meditation, a short yoga sequence, read a book, take a nap, take a bath or cuddle quietly on the couch with your cat or dog. Whatever makes you feel peaceful, centered and stress-free. If you choose an activity that induces the relaxation response in your body (a state of extreme calm where your heart rate slows, your blood pressure lowers and your muscle tension dissipates), then you’ll experience major benefits, like less anxiety, more energy and better physical health (9).
Turn to the light
If your mood always takes a dive in the late fall and early winter, there may be more to the story than holiday stress. It could be a seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a depressive disorder that strikes in the colder months when daylight becomes scarce (10). Since the lack of sunlight is thought to trigger SAD, the best way to relieve it is to sit under a full spectrum light for 20 minutes per day (1). Of course, some research suggests that dwindling vitamin D levels may play a role in SAD too. If you suspect you have SAD, get your vitamin D levels tested and take a supplement if they’re low (11).
Never skimp on sleep
When you’re busy and overwhelmed, it’s tempting to sleep less so you can get more done. But that will only make holiday stress and depression worse. Research shows that people who get less than eight hours of sleep per night are more likely to feel stressed, irritable and impatient (12). They’re also more likely to lack motivation and energy (12). Of course, feeling stressed and depressed may make it harder to unwind at night and get a good night’s sleep. If holiday stress is preventing you from getting enough sleep, try natural sleep aids like melatonin, valerian root or Native Remedies’ homeopathic Triple Complex Sleep Tonic™.
Squeeze stress out with acupressure
If you’d like to experience the benefits of acupuncture without the steep price tag (or the needles), consider trying acupuncture’s free DIY cousin—acupressure. Both acupuncture and acupressure are potent stress relievers that work by stimulating certain points on your body (13). In fact, studies show that acupressure can help relieve anxiety, stress, and depression in people dealing with serious medical conditions like cancer and kidney failure, so it can certainly help with some simple holiday stress (14; 15). If you’d like to give the stress-fighting powers of acupressure a try, place your right thumb or forefinger between your eyebrows and apply firm but light pressure in a circular motion for five to ten minutes (13). This should make your holiday stress melt away!
Don’t hesitate to use herbal support
Even if you try all the stress-relieving suggestions on this list, you may need a little extra support slaying seasonal stress. And that’s where herbs come in. There are plenty of safe and effective herbs that have an impressive impact on stress and mood. The herb lemon balm, for example, has been used to relieve stress since the Middle Ages, and modern science has confirmed that it does indeed work (16). In fact, one double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that it enhanced mood while also promoting calmness and alertness (16). The herb passionflower has also been used for many years to encourage calmness (17). More recently, studies show it can promote a peaceful mood in people with a generalized anxiety disorder and people undergoing surgery (17). St. John’s Wort is another herb that can encourage a more positive state of mind, with numerous studies demonstrating its mood-lifting abilities (18). If you’re looking for herbal mood and stress support, consider trying Native Remedies’ PureCalm™ for Naturally Soothed Nerves, which contains lemon balm, lavender flower, and passionflower, or Native Remedies’ MindSoothe™ Veg Cap, which contains St. John’s Wort and passionflower.
Hopefully, you’re feeling less stressed already. After all, it helps to know there are simple things you can do to make the holidays fun again. And, trust me. If you do decide to follow these nine tips for a stress-free holiday season, you’re sure to have the holiest, jolliest holiday you’ve had in years—one that only a Christmas carol could capture!
- Goldsmith, Barton. “10 Tools for Dealing with Holiday Stress and Depression.” Psychology Today. 21 Dec. 2011. Web 22 Nov. 2017. < https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-fitness/201112/10-tools-dealing-holiday-stress-and-depression;.
- “Stress Weakens the Immune System.” American Psychological Association. 23 Feb. 2006. Web 22 Nov. 2017. < http://www.apa.org/research/action/immune.aspx;.
- “Stress management.” Mayo Clinic. 16 Apr. 2015. Web 24 Nov. 2017. <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469;.
- “Physical Activity Reduces Stress.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. N.D. Web 24 Nov. 2017. <https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st;.
- Glassman, Keri. “13 Foods That Fight Stress.” Prevention. 22 May 2014. Web Nov. 24 2017. <https://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/13-healthy-foods-that-reduce-stress-and-depression/slide/13;.
- Lawson, Willow. “Omega-3s For Boosting Mood.” Psychology Today. 9 Jun. 2016. Web Nov. 24 2017. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200301/omega-3s-boosting-mood;.
- Petersen, Dorene. “Anxious or Feeling Down? Can Essential Oils Help?” American College of Healthcare Sciences. 27 Jan. 2017. Web Nov. 24 2017. < http://info.achs.edu/blog/depression-and-anxiety-can-essential-oils-help;.
- Banks, Suzanne. “13 Essential Oils To Reduce Stress.” Mind Body Green. 10 Feb. 2015. Web Nov. 24 2017. <https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17313/13-essential-oils-to-reduce-stress.html;.
- “Relaxation, Stress & Sleep.” Dartmouth College. N.D. Web Nov. 24 2017. <http://www.dartmouth.edu/~healthed/relax/;.
- “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” Mayo Clinic. N.D. Web Nov. 24 2017. <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651;.
- “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. Mar. 2016. Web Nov. 24 2017. <https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml;.
- “Stressed Out Without Enough Sleep.” American Psychological Association. N.D. Web Nov. 24 2017. <http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx;.
- “Acupressure for Stress and Anxiety.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 8 Sept. 2017. Web Nov. 24 2017. <https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/acupressure-stress-and-anxiety;.
- Sharifi, R.M., et al. “The effect of acupressure on pain, anxiety, and the physiological indexes of patients with cancer undergoing bone marrow biopsy.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2017 Nov;29:136-141. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2017.09.002. Web Nov. 24 2017.
- Hmwe, N.T., et al. “The effects of acupressure on depression, anxiety and stress in patients with hemodialysis: a randomized controlled trial.” International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2015 Feb;52(2):509-18. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2014.11.002. Web Nov. 24 2017.
- “Lemon balm.” University of Maryland Medical Center. 2 Jan. 2015. Web 24 Nov. 2017. <http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lemon-balm;.
- “Passionflower.” University of Maryland Medical Center. 1 Jan. 2017. Web 24 Nov. 2017. <http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/passionflower;.
- “St. John’s wort.” University of Maryland Medical Center. 1 Jan. 2017. Web 24 Nov. 2017. <http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/st-johns-wort;.