Managing Holiday Stress

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.

Have a Healthy Freshman Year

The first year in college is a very exciting time, but it is also an enormous adjustment for many college students. The lack of parental/caregiver oversight, freedom to set your own schedules, competition, stress, and having the ability to choose when and what you eat can often mean that health takes a backseat to other priorities, particularly during that first year of college. I can tell you based on my own personal experience that the dreaded “Freshman 15” is just the tip of the iceberg since eating habits are strongly linked to other factors, such as stress. So here are my tips for keeping healthy when you head out to college.

Eating Healthy

1. Keep healthy snacks in your dorm room

In college, I lived next door to the Mediterranean-themed dining hall, which, for me, meant bringing back tupperware containers full of baklava to snack on when I was studying later on at night during my first semester. That went as well for my waistline as you would think it did. When we are stressed out or up late, we are particularly susceptible to binging on unhealthy foods. Those foods actually increase the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies. So it is super important to make sure that these foods are an occasional treat and not a study-time staple. Keeping healthy snacks handy in your dorm room and back pack will help make sure you avoid this too-common pitfall.

2. Plan ahead

At most schools these days, you can check what the dining hall is serving online before you walk over for dinner. This is awesome because it allows you to plan your meals ahead of time and strategize around those temptations.

3. Hit the salad bar

A healthy plate should be at least 1/2 vegetables and hitting the salad bar can make sure you hit this benchmark. Starting your meal with a salad is also a great way to make sure that you don’t overeat more caloric or unhealthier foods later on in your meal. It has also been shown to buffer against the blood sugar spike we experience from simple carbohydrates and could mitigate some of the effects of fatty meats on our circulatory system as well.

4. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is critical for your health in so many ways. Drinking enough water keeps your skin healthy, keeps your joints working properly, helps cleanse out your body, promotes cardiovascular health, helps you absorb nutrients from food, and can keep you from overeating.

5. Be present at meal time

It is so easy to eat a whole meal and hardly even notice it when you’re super distracted my homework, friends, etc. You will enjoy your meals more and feel more satisfied as well as diminish your likelihood of overeating if you pay attention to your eating.

6. Don’t wait until you’re starving to eat

When you’re really cramming or trying to meet a deadline, it can be easy to skip eating until you can’t ignore those hunger pangs any more, but you’re not doing yourself any favors this way. You will work better and more efficiently if you eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re starving. When you wait that long, you often end up opting for something unhealthy or inhaling way too much food. You’re better off having a snack or taking a meal break – chances are you weren’t getting as much done as you could anyway because you were being distracted by hunger and your brain was starving for the nutrients it needs to function properly.

Healthy Movement

1. Find a fitness routine that you actually like

It’s no secret that if you hate something, you won’t do it. Once you have your schedule down, finding some type of physical activity that you like – whether it’s playing a sport or going to the gym or taking a fitness class – is key to keeping physically active, especially when student life is often so sedentary. It’s also important to know yourself and what it takes for you to make something habit. Are you easily self-motivated so setting your own schedule works for you? Do you need external accountability so registering for a class or being part of a team is a must for you to stick to something? Asking yourself these kinds of questions will help you find what works for you.

2. Find a fitness buddy

Having a fitness buddy is a great way to keep yourself motivated and active. It’s also a great way to build a good new friendship.

Feel Healthy

1. Get enough sleep

College students are incredibly sleep-deprived. This can negatively impact academic performance, can increase stress levels, has been linked to higher body weight, can increase inflammation, and can contribute to depression. Practicing good sleep hygiene and getting a good night’s sleep (8 hours) is critical to overall health. Make sure that you have enough time to sleep for 8 hours. Keep electronics and their blue light out of your bedroom. Use sleep masks and ear plugs if you need to – even a little light can disrupt our sleep.

2. Find your stress relief tricks and make time for them

College is stressful. Period. And stress can have some very negative effects on our health, including weight gain, decreased immune system function, sleeplessness, and hypertension. It is so, so important to have healthy ways to manage your stress at your disposal, especially when it can be very easy to turn to unhealthy ways of coping. When I was in college, exercise and coloring were my go-tos when the stress got to be too much. I also had a great group of friends to turn to when I needed them. Try to have a variety of stress relief techniques you can use depending on what your situation is.

3. Use the school’s resources

From one-on-one therapy sessions to support groups to student mentors, there are a number of resources available to college students these days to support your mental and emotional health. If you are struggling – no matter what with – these resources are there for you to use and I guarantee you are not the only one to use them.

 

 

Decluttering

Today I want to share a post from a good friend of mine, Cheryl Russo of Organizing by Cheryl. I met Cheryl a few months ago and she quickly became on of my favorite people. She is such a positive, genuine person and really walks the walk when it comes to organization.

“A post about personal organizing?” you say? Yes, let me explain. Our surrounding physical environment has a massive impact on our inner mental and emotional environment. If you are surrounded by clutter and disarray, odds are you feel stressed out and discombobulated much of the time. Likewise, if your kitchen is a mess, you are more likely to order takeout rather than cook a healthy meal. Are your junk food snacks more visible/accessible than your healthy snack? Chances are you’re going to opt for the indulgence over the healthy choice most often. We know that our emotional state and our stress levels impact how we care for ourselves- from how we eat to how we sleep to how much we move. So making your living and working environments work for you is super important to your health.

I know, as well as anyone else, that once things get to a certain point, starting the process of decluttering and cleaning out can feel hopeless, even impossible. But Cheryl has some great tips to keep you from getting overwhelmed:

  1. Start small – like your junk drawer or a cabinet
  2. Start with just 5 minutes a day
  3. For big projects, use the Pomodoro Method: 25 min working on it, 5 min break, repeat

Once you get started, here are her Top 10 Tips for Decluttering and Organizing:

Decluttering

If the following statements are true, then donate or ditch it:

  1. Something doesn’t fit (e.g., jeans that you had hoped to fit into, but it’s been 15 years now)
  2. You own two of the same thing (e.g., two blenders)
  3. It’s tattered or a dust-magnet (e.g., that high school hockey team t-shirt; that eucalyptus wreath you’ve had on the wall for 19 years)
  4. You just don’t love it (i.e., it doesn’t “spark joy” to quote Marie Kondo or it doesn’t “add value” to quote Joshua Fields Millburn)
  5. It’s expired (e.g., medicine, food, batteries) or outlived its purpose

Organizing

  1. Store like items together (i.e., have a system for storing things) like camera stuff with the camera and hiking boots with hiking gear
  2. Label boxes and bins clearly and store the bins with the labeled side facing out
  3. Don’t overstuff drawers; to paraphrase Marie Kondo: to keep clutter from accumulating, items must be just as easily put back as they are taken out
  4. Daily-use items should be stored within reach (but not out in the open cluttering a counter)
  5. When in doubt, keep multi-use items (e.g., a large knife: it can chop and the side of it can be used to crush garlic) and get rid of gadgets that have only one purpose; you probably never use that melon baller anyway

Other things to keep in mind…

20/20 rule

For those “just in case” items, if the thing is less than $20 to replace and you could rebuy it within 20 minutes of your home, then donate it (20/20 rule courtesy of theminimalists.com).

Sharing apps and other “sharing” ideas

There are lots of music and other online sharing apps and sites where you can “borrow” music, articles, etc. without actually owning the physical items. There are also car sharing companies (e.g., Zipcar) where you can reserve a car for a few hours or days; this is good if you live in a city where parking is expensive and/or difficult.

Paper (e.g., receipts, documents, forms, etc.) accumulation ideas

Buy a scanner app (e.g., Scanbot about $6) for your Smartphone; many of these apps scan documents beautifully, then you can email them to yourself or send them to a computer folder.

Sentimental items

Take a picture of them, then donate to those who could use them now; keep only a few of the things you have, ditch or donate the rest; find a new purpose for the item (e.g., an old blanket; turn it into a scarf, a cleaning cloth, or a handkerchief); or just get rid of them and be ok with it.

 

For some more great advice on organizing and de-cluttering your life, make sure you visit Organizing by Cheryl’s website and like her Facebook page!

Meet Cheryl:

23-Cheryl-200x300I love organizing. I was that kid who always had an organized bedroom. But it wasn’t until early 2016 that I decided that this was my true calling. I love the challenge of using space effectively. I live what I say; I have lived in more than a few apartments that were under 500 square feet. Therefore, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the use of space, and now I can use what I’ve learned to help others with their space. I look forward to working with you to create the space in your home or office that will allow you to focus on what matters to you in life. We will declutter and create space that will be organized, peaceful, and efficient. I’ll work at a pace that is comfortable for you and offer advice on developing systems so that you’ll be able to easily continue to maintain the space we’ve created. Let’s work together!