The holiday season can be stressful any year—traveling across the country, cooking for large groups of people, trying to avoid talking politics with your relatives… it’s a lot to deal with at the best of times, without a global pandemic thrown into the mix. It’s not just other people that can be frustrating, either. Loneliness, which can be more acutely felt at a time of year that is traditionally spent with family and friends, is also associated with a steep rise in anxiety levels.
The Link Between Stress and Immunity
To make matters worse, at a time when we’re all focused on maintaining our immune systems, numerous studies have shown that stress and immunity are closely linked. That’s due to a hormone called cortisol, which our bodies release when we encounter danger, triggering our fight or flight response. Thousands of years ago, this response helped us to survive dangerous encounters by giving us a huge rush of energy to either face our attacker or run away as fast as possible. This energy boost comes at the cost of shutting down other systems that are not essential in that crucial moment—including immune responses.
While this heat-of-the-moment response undoubtedly saved many of our ancestors from run-ins with saber-toothed tigers, the things that stress us out nowadays—like worrying whether the tofurkey is cooked or whether your great aunt is about to say something offensive—can’t be solved by fighting or fleeing. As such, our bodies don’t always know what to do with all this extra adrenaline. When the stressors are always around—like those relatives who always outstay their welcome—we find ourselves operating in a constant state of stress response, known as chronic stress. Chronic stress can start to kick in after just a few days in a highly stressful environment, and, long term, it can ravage the human immune system, making it much harder for our body to fight off diseases and viruses.
Staying Health and Happy
However, the good news is that we are not powerless in the face of stress, even during the holiday season. By taking small steps such as the ones below to keep our stress under control, we can help our bodies to bring down cortisol levels and get back to keeping us healthy.
Reach Out to Others
Pick up the phone, jump on a video call, or even write an old-fashioned letter to someone you care about. It doesn’t have to be family, either—in a year where more people are changing their holiday plans than ever before, chances are many people you care about are also having a tough time. If that doesn’t appeal, consider giving some of your time to a telephone befriending service for elderly people. A quick call can go a long way towards getting you out of your own head.
It may be tempting to spend all day on the couch in your pajamas during the holidays, but this is rarely helpful to our mental health. Instead, try to get some gentle exercise: not only does it help to reduce stress, but it can also boost health and immunity. If it is safe to do so, go out for a short, brisk walk. If you feel safer at home, take a little time for some yoga or stretching—this is also a great opportunity to focus and check in with yourself.
Having a few quick grounding exercises up your sleeve for difficult moments can make a huge difference to your overall stress levels over the holidays. One simple exercise goes like this:
- Hold your left hand out in front of you, with the palm towards you and your fingers spaced apart.
- With the index finger of your right hand, starting at the outer edge of your palm, slowly trace the outline of your left hand.
- Trace up and down the shapes of your fingers: as you trace up a finger, breathe in. Pause at the tip of your finger, then breathe out as you trace downwards.
- Repeat the exercise a couple of times until you feel calmer, trying to focus on your breath and the sensation of your finger against your other hand.
Even the healthiest eaters tend to cheat a little over the holiday period. We’re not here to say that you can’t eat that pumpkin pie or get an extra serving of potatoes—just try to enjoy everything in moderation so you don’t end up adding guilt to stress. What we eat can help to keep our bodies calmer though, so consider trying out some soothing teas or adding calming botanicals and immune-boosting herbs to your holiday diet. Our signature Daily Boost product, which is specially formulated with full-spectrum CBD to help modulate the body’s response to stress, makes it easy to start the day on the right foot so you can focus on coping with the relatives.