How to Reduce Holiday Stress and Anxiety
The 'holiday' season can be a joyful and stressful time for many. Did you know 24% of people with mental illness report feeling "a lot " worse during holidays? and 40% of people with mental illness report feeling "somewhat " worse during holidays. Given the emotional and physical toll Covid has had on us this year, these numbers are likely a lot worse!
We also tend to sleep less, eat poorly, and drink more this time of year which can make symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression much worse! There is also an increased sense of loneliness for those unable to spend time with family and friends or for those who simply don't have anyone around. About 40% of adults deal with social anxiety during holidays, making them more likely to isolate or to feel uncomfortable when expected to attend large family gatherings.
There's no denying that the over 10 million COVID cases in the US have caused an increase in mental health/behavioral health issues, stress and trauma disorders, and substance abuse. Check out these stats:
40.9% of people report adverse mental/behavioral issues since COVID
26.3% report stress/trauma disorders
13.3% have reported an increase in substance use (substance use is historically way under-reported so the number is most likely way higher)
Please note: Healthy eating is not a substitute for seeking help from a mental health professional.
What we put into our bodies can have a profound effect on our mood, energy levels and self-esteem, and it's especially important this time of year. With colder weather and poor moods we often have difficulty staying hydrated and turn to heavy, comfort foods and or junk food. While these can make you feel better in the short term they can leave us with a heavy feeling or feelings of shame or guilt afterward.
Healthier eating, when combined with exercise and mental health care, will help to improve your mood, boost energy levels, and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Let's look at these 5 benefits:
Higher self-esteem: Having a positive body image improves self-esteem and healthy eating is a key way to improve body image. Body and mind are one entity, taking care of your body benefits your mind, and taking care of your mind benefits your body. If you have high self-worth and a positive body image you're more likely to pay attention to the foods you put in your body. How you feel directly impacts how you show up in social settings and how you communicate with others. Wouldn't it be nice to feel comfortable and confident this year?!
Improved energy levels: Prioritizing foods high in protein, fat, and fiber by eating a diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and fatty foods like salmon, olive oil, and avocado will give you higher and more balanced energy levels. Smaller more frequent meals, reduced caffeine, less refined sugars, and a light lunch will balance energy instead of the highs and lows seen with crash diets. Meaning you can shop til you drop or dance the night away at the party.
Increased brain function: The healthier your body is, the healthier your brain is! Prioritizing foods like wild salmon, blueberries, green tea, and dark chocolate has been shown to improve brain function. Dehydration also impairs brain function making it work much harder! Aim for half your body weight in ounces of water each day. You'll need the extra brain power to shut down Uncle Joe's racist remarks or beat your cousins at a game of trivial pursuit.
Reduced depression symptoms: Our brain cannot function without essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, when we deprive our brain and our bodies of these things our mood worsens, we feel lethargic and even simple tasks become very difficult. Foods rich in magnesium, vitamin D, selenium (1-2 Brazil Nuts per day can help) zinc, amino and fatty acids can reduce depression symptoms. Holidays can be a stressful time with increased feelings of loneliness. Taking care of your body from the inside out can make help reduce these feelings. ***Nutrition is not a substitute for mental health care***
Improved mood: A diet high in fat, high in sugar or high in processed foods can make us feel lethargic, heavy, or bloated. It can also lead to increased feelings of guilt or shame for eating these foods. When we prioritize a balanced diet of whole grains, protein, healthy fat with lots of fruits and vegetables we're giving our body what it needs to function reducing stress and increasing serotonin levels. The holidays are a time to be thankful and to enjoy with those we love, you deserve happiness and joy right now!
👆me after eating a healthy meal or tacos lol
You don't have to restrict your favorite holiday foods to prioritize your mental and physical health, aim for an 80/20 or 70/30 balance of the healthier stuff and the not so healthy stuff. How do you find this balance? Stay hydrated, eat a fruit or veggie at every meal, and breathe. You've got this! I'll cover more tips on how to handle the holidays in a followup post!
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