Ah, the holidays. Here they come again!
What’s your first thought? Twinkling lights? Festive music? Family gatherings?
Or is it something else? Stress, anxiety, unhappy stomach, cold and flu season, and just feeling stretched too thin.
You're not alone. The holidays are a time of overwhelm for many people, affecting mood, digestion, sleep, immunity, and nervous system health.
What if this year could be different?
Understanding how holiday stress affects you physically – and what you can do to counter it – could be the key to helping you get more enjoyment from the season.
All Is Not Calm
Research confirms what we all know – people tend to experience more stress during the holidays. According to a November 2021 study from the American Psychiatric Association, adults are five times more likely to report an increase (rather than a decrease) in stress levels during the weeks leading up to the New Year.1 In a 2015 Healthline survey of 2,280 adults, 62% described the annual holiday season as “somewhat stressful” or “very stressful.”2
Research also tells us that stress affects us physically. That includes our brain and our gut, which are in constant communication via the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body. And that nerve carries signals that influence a long list of enteric (intestinal) and central nervous system functions.3
This explains the very real and varied manifestations of holiday stress from headaches and irritability to insomnia and digestive discomfort to adrenal and cardiovascular issues.4 Stress, too, affects our immune defenses leaving us more susceptible to winter colds and flu.5
Strengthen Your Stress Response
So, how can you fortify yourself against the physical effects of holiday stress? Here are a few tips:
Step up your probiotics
Research shows a definite link between gut dysbiosis and mood.6 Your gut is responsible for synthesizing and releasing feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).7 In fact, the gut is responsible for providing as much as 95% of the body’s total serotonin reserves.8
A good spore-based probiotic can help balance the microbes in your gut and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria that support mood and immune health. Some studies have also found certain probiotic strains – such as Bacillus coagulans and Bifidobacterium longum – to be clinically effective in helping to relieve stress and anxiety.9
Adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms have long been recognized by Traditional Chinese Medicine for their health-promoting properties. This clinically studied class of botanicals works by helping the body “adapt” to physical and emotional stress. Some well-known examples include eleuthero, schisandra, reishi mushroom, and astragalus. Add adaptogenic herbs or elixirs to a beverage – a convenient way to tap into the tonifying support of botanicals for mood and nervous system support!
Soothe your digestion
Dashing around from one holiday “to-do” to the next, overeating, and grazing on assorted sweets and party snacks can leave you with digestive discomfort. What’s more, stress triggers a flight-or-fight response in the brain (remember the vagus nerve?), which causes your body to prepare for physical activity – and puts critical functions like digestion on hold. The result can sometimes be uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn, bloating, and gas.
What you want to do is switch to “rest-and-digest” mode. Once again, botanicals and other nutrients can help. Herbs like deglycyrrhizinated licorice, aloe vera, chamomile, and lemon balm have been shown to offer soothing support for the digestive and nervous systems. Glycine and ginger support healthy vagus nerve function.
Improve the quality of your sleep
Sleep is often the first thing to go when we’re stressed. Either we stay up late trying to conquer our to-do list, or we wind up laying in bed endlessly reviewing it instead of getting the rest our brains and bodies need to function well. But sleep is one of the most important ways to “reset” during times of holiday overwhelm.
Did you know that glycine is a nutrient that actually helps to improve the quality of your sleep? This sweet-tasting amino acid is derived from protein-rich foods such as meat, lentils, and dairy. Research shows that supplementing with glycine can both shorten the time to fall asleep and increase deep sleep.10 And we all know we feel happier, think more clearly, and accomplish more when we get enough sleep.
Wrap It All Up With a Little Common Sense
In addition to strengthening your natural defenses, don’t forget the things you rely on throughout the year to minimize stress. Like getting regular exercise, eating well, and connecting with the people you care about.
Prioritizing self care while adding supportive botanicals and nutrients to your routine could transform what feels like an exercise in logistics and endurance into a season of joy.
To explore products that contain many of these botanicals and nutrients, check out our RESTORE category.