This is a guest post by Dr. Kristen Accardo, D.C.
As the holiday season comes to a close and the new year begins, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel stressed. There’s extra bills coming in and changes to make if you want to keep up with those new year resolutions.
But stress is not just caused by bad things. Even good things you may be looking forward to and temporary changes to your routine can cause stress. Work, family, finances and changes in daily habits can put stress on your system. Stress can affect your body and mind in many ways. New research is showing that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate inflammation, which can lead to the development and progression of disease.
Some people get headaches, digestive problems, and changes in sleep patterns. Other people may experience a lowered immune response, leading to illness.
Here are five ways you can help identify and manage stress this winter so you stay healthy this season and into the new year.
5 Ways to Manage Your Stress This Winter Season
1. Recognize the signs
Learn to recognize signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol use, emotional eating, being easily angered or irritable, feeling depressed, increased aches and pains due to muscle tension or having low energy. Everyone responds differently. Tune into your body.
Set priorities. Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say “no” to new tasks if they are putting you into overload. Focus on what you have accomplished during the day, not what you’ve been unable to get done. If needed, let go of expectations and open yourself up to new possibilities or new traditions.
Exercise regularly. Just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress. Schedule regular times for healthy and relaxing activities. If you can’t fit in 30 minutes, take 10 minutes to stretch, do a few yoga poses, or get out for a short walk on your lunch hour. Exercise has been shown to boost feel good endorphins and decrease stress related levels of cortisol.
4. Practice mindfulness
Try meditation or mindful breathing. Mindful, controlled breathing activates the Vagus nerve which promotes relaxation and helps to reduce the sympathetic nervous system’s stress response. If you’re new to meditation and mindfulness, don’t worry about “not thinking”. Just take a few minutes of quiet time to pay attention to your breath, or take a few rounds of slow, controlled inhalation and exhalation to begin to get the stress reducing benefits!
5. Lean on your support system
Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help when you need it from family and friends. If you’re stressed and don’t have anyone to rely on for emotional support, consider talking to a counselor or other mental health professional.
Try one or all of these tips this holiday season to stay healthy and stress free. Don’t forget to allow yourself a routine self-care ritual like a weekly yoga class, monthly massage or acupuncture treatment. Self-care doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. A nightly soak in Epsom salts or lavender essential oil can be just as relaxing. Just remember that self-care is not “selfish”. Your ability to be your best self and help others is directly related to how much you take care of yourself.