As we approach one of the biggest holidays of the year, I know many of you can practically feel the stress baring down on you – from gifts, to parties, to kids, to food, to travel arrangements, and even to family matters, these things add up! Stress is no joke, and it affects almost every part of our lives: body, mind, spirit, and even social life. We all have to find ways to cope under the pressure of life, and that’s why this post is all about how you can start combating stress, right now.

But before we get to the ways in which you can deal with stress, let’s take a look at what stress is and exactly WHY it’s such a blow to our health.

Stress, in simple terms, is really a state of mental tension as a result of strenuous or demanding circumstances. What most people don’t realize, though, is that mental stress translates into a dramatic effect on your body. So, even though you’re experience mental fatigue and anxiety, your body is exhibiting its own problems.

Why? Well, first off, mental stress can quickly turn into a state where your body assumes the fight or flight response. In its most recognized form, this response is what happens when an individual is in a dangerous situation. In other words, a person either fights or runs. When faced with constant stress, however, the body reacts in the same way, only now the person doesn’t run – he or she just fights.

When the body is placed in a constant state of agitation in this way, adrenaline and cortisol are released. In small doses these hormones are essential to survival, yet in a stressful situation they can both be really harmful. Adrenaline, for example, increases your heart rate and blood pressure – both of which are detrimental long term. Cortisol, on the other hand, drastically alters the functioning of the immune system whilst suppressing appetite – again, both situations are extremely harmful in the long term. Here are some of the harmful side-effects of the prolonged exposure to these hormones:

  • Increased Headaches: these sometimes even lead to migraines.
  • Muscle Spasms: oftentimes leads to incapacitation and a drop in fitness levels.
  • Stomach Pain: often leads to a loss of appetite, metabolic issues, and a host of health problems.
  • Weight Gain: as a result of unusual appetite fluctuation as well as confused metabolic systems.
  • Depression: feelings of being overwhelmed can lead to a total collapse of will, energy, and joy.
  • Altered Sleep Patterns: this can lead to an increase in stress due to the body’s inability to recover whilst in an REM state.

Hold on, before you feel as though you need to cancel Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, the good news is that there are ways with which to conquer stress. As with everything, your body just needs ways to cope, heal, and maintain a stress free routine. Here are some ideas I’d urge you to give a go, right now:

Yoga or Pilates
Have you heard the saying that “getting onto the mat is the hardest part”? Well, that’s true. Trying gentle stretches and relaxation techniques, such as those found in yoga and Pilates routines, is an excellent way to reduce stress levels. Namaste!

Make Sure you’re Getting Enough Sleep
Now, I know a lack of sleep is a side effect of a stressful state, but making the effort to get into bed earlier, turning your phone off at least an hour before bed, avoiding all screens in the bedroom, and creating a comfortable sleeping environment, is a definite way to help you release some of that stress.

This tip may perhaps not sound as though it’s for you, but I promise that a little quiet time, meditation, gentle music, or whatever your name for it might be, will help you relax. Remember to breathe deeply and slowly, focusing on the present moment and being thankful for the opportunity to be alive. You could also try a great application called Headspace– a revolutionary new way of guided meditation, mindfulness, and stress management. Why not give it a try?

Eat Well
Avoid excessively fatty, sugary, or salty foods, as these generally alter your mood and may aggravate the symptoms of stress. Why not try cooking new dishes or making tried and tested family-favorites with your nearest and dearest? Take the time out to appreciate the love of food in a healthful, mindful way.

Truly, this is perhaps the most impressive stress-buster out there. Laugh with all your might – watch that comedy show, spend time with the relative who makes you giggle, do childlike, magical things that bring a smile to your face. Stress doesn’t stand a chance against unabashed happiness.

Spend Time with Loved Ones
No explanation needed. Love fiercely, wake up early, and sit down to a cup of java with your favorite people in the world.

Listen to Your Body
If you’re tired, have a rest. If you’re saying “yes” too often, say “no”. Be a little selfish – and whilst this is a little controversial, remember that the world won’t stop just because you take an hour for yourself. It’s so important to listen to your body – our natural instinct is to do what’s best for us. Just become quiet and listen closely… you’ll know what to do.

See a Physical Therapist
If your spasms don’t seem to ease, or you are in constant physical pain and discomfort due to stress, don’t wait. Oftentimes the aches and pain can increase over time. The best thing you can do is to see a professional, qualified physiotherapist to help you recover in no time. With special exercises, stretches, and a hands-on routine, you’ll be ready for whatever this holiday season throws at you.

So, there you have it: essential tips for combating stress this holiday season and beyond. And remember to drink enough water! Don’t let stress affect your mind and body – take control and put the smile back on your face. Keep the adrenaline for unwrapping the gifts, and the cortisol for the chocolaty desserts – don’t let stress steal your joy. Happy holidays!