It’s impossible to talk about health or healthy eating without also talking about stress. It’s behind so many of our unhealthy habits and it’s also fueled by them at the same time. And we all know how bad stress is for our health, not just because of those habits, but because of how chronically high cortisol (stress hormone) levels can affect the way our bodies function. Here are a couple facts about stress and our health:

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey:

  • 38% of adults surveyed said they engaged in stress eating in the last month
  • Half of those adults said they engage in stress in weekly or more
  • 27% of adults say they eat to manage stress
  • 30% of adults report skipping meals due to stress

According to the NIH, anywhere from 60-90% of doctors visits are due to stress-related conditions

Stress contributes to chronic illness, inflammation, sleeplessness, weight gain, and performance issues and it can also impact our personal relationships. This time of year especially, stress management is particularly important.

So…what should you do?

Stress Management Routine

My biggest piece of stress management advice is to make time for yourself every single day. Yes. Every. Single. Day.

That’s not the tall order it might seem to be. I promise. Because it doesn’t have to be 3 hours at a spa (but if you can pull that off, go for it). It can be just 5 minutes to do something you enjoy.

Just taking 3 deep breaths has been scientifically shown to decrease stress levels on a physical and emotional level. So imagine what taking a 20 minute hot shower while listening to your favorite music can do!

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count. Even if you find cleaning to be soothing, that’s not doing something for yourself because it’s still something on your too-long to-do list that you would have done anyway. So you can count cooking, cleaning, or dishes as self-care.

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count.

Stress management is as deeply personal as the things that are stressing you out, so you need to find what works for you and those things will change situationally. Some people haven’t ever considered a stress management plan and that’s OK – it’s never too late to create one. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:

  • 5-minute mindfulness meditation
  • knitting
  • take a walk
  • journal it out
  • listen to your favorite song
  • take a long hot shower

Stress management doesn’t have to be complicated or involved – it just has to make you feel better. There’s no reason not to make it a priority – whether it happens just before bed on your lunch break or in between errands. Just make it happen every day.

Set Boundaries

The other biggest piece of advice I have with regards to holiday stress is to set clear, strong, and consistent boundaries. This time of year, the ones we care about can also become one of our biggest sources of stress as we struggle to balance competing interests, demands, and to-dos. If you focus on trying to please everyone, you’re going to end up burned out. Saying “no” and not feeling guilty about it can be your greatest gift this holiday season.

No, I can’t bring a side dish to that party. No, I can’t host your kids at my house today. No, we can’t go to both parties. No, I’m not buying that toy. No, you can’t invite your 3 friends from high school to my dinner party.

Obviously, there are things that you won’t be able to say “no” to. But for those things that you can, that are causing you more stress than they’re worth, that you dread doing – practice using that magic little word.

On Feeling Selfish

Sometimes setting boundaries is going to create a little backlash. Sometimes taking time for yourself will make you feel like you’re being selfish. To that I say this: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

By this I mean that you can’t possibly show up at your best for others if you don’t care for yourself first. In light of that, there is nothing selfish about taking a few minutes or an hour to yourself today and for saying no to something you don’t want to do.

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