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For many, the holiday season is the most stressful time of the year. The financial strain of buying gifts, meeting with family members who may not be amenable to our company, planning and coordinating parties, and wrapping up business for the year combined with fatty foods and desserts creates an enormous strain on our stress response system. What should be a time for enjoying good food and the company of family and friends is, instead, filled with feelings of dread or doom. Finances, family politics, national politics, and current events may threaten what should otherwise be a joyous season. We’ve put together a few helpful tips so that you can spend more time enjoying your holidays and less time enduring them.

Stress in a Nutshell

Our stress response is a physiological reaction to mental perceptions leftover from our paleolithic ancestors. The intensity of the response depends on our perception of how bad the problem is and how well prepared we are to deal with it, which means stress is subjective. When faced with a stressful situation, our bodies produce hormones that sharpen mental focus and clarity, increase heart rate, and prepare major muscles to move us out of harm’s way. This “fight or flight” response evolved to be activated just long enough to evade a predator or enemy. It is not suited for the lingering threat of credit card bills, overindulgence, or Aunt Gertrude’s captious questions. And that’s what makes holiday stress unique — it taxes nearly all of our time, financial, emotional, and physical resources concurrently. If we’re not careful, we can exhaust some, if not all, of those resources, which can lead to health problems.

Create a Budget

The stress of limited financial resources may quickly overshadow the joy of shopping and giving during the holidays. Spending more under the guise of giving can certainly feel good. Still, the consequences of overspending and allowing your holiday list to run away can linger well after the holidays, especially if one purchases gifts on credit. The best way to avoid overspending is by creating a cash budget and sticking to it. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, have a conversation with them about setting realistic expectations. Santa has been operating at reduced capacity due to the pandemic, too!

Coordinate gift purchases for parents with siblings to help each other defray the cost. Also communicate with other family members to limit the number of gifts to purchase. The average person purchases more than four gifts for each family member, creating a significant financial strain. This year, it’s more important than ever to revisit family gift-giving traditions. The holidays are less about expensive gifts and more about spending time with family and creating lasting memories.

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While many of us breathe a sigh of relief on December 26, the end of the holiday season is the best time to be proactive about planning for next year. Start by holstering your cash budget. Most financial institutions offer holiday savings accounts that encourage you to save for the holidays by automatically transferring an amount of your choice every month. Saving just $50 per month beginning in January yields a holiday budget of $600 by December.

Manage Your Time

Between work functions, office parties, sending cards, going to family gatherings, shopping, preparing meals, making travel accommodations, packing, and wrapping up business for the year, your time may be stretched thin. It’s also easy to put our needs second when the holidays are all about giving. Planning your activities well in advance is the easiest way to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Decide which traditions offer the most positive impact on family togetherness and work-life and schedule your time accordingly. Include time to exercise and meditate. Even a brisk walk around the neighborhood can be enough of a break to calm one’s nerves.

When faced with a shortage of time, we often sacrifice sleep to make up for the loss. Immune system functionality is intimately connected to the stress response and sleep cycle. During the holiday season, your immune system works overtime fending off the myriad of colds, flu, and other ailments. And in addition to increasing energy availability, our stress response naturally reduces immune system functionality when responding to short periods of stress. Chronic holiday stress combined with sacrificing sleep places a burden on your immune system, making you more susceptible to seasonal illness. When planning your time, make sure you plan a good night’s sleep for yourself.

Exercise

The same system that serves to get us out of harm’s way also works to calm us down and return our bodies to normal function. The human body is very capable of calming itself down naturally under normal circumstances. When a stressful event has passed, our stress response signals itself to calm down by inhibiting the release of the enzyme that breaks down anandamide. Anandamide, also fittingly called the “bliss molecule,” is responsible for helping our bodies return to a relaxed state. During periods of prolonged or chronic stress, stress hormones in the body prevent the degradation of anandamide thereby inhibiting the stress response from subsiding naturally. Recent research suggests that a deficiency in anandamide contributes to anxiety, a consequence of chronic stress.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

One of the best ways to mitigate the effects of stress and encourage anandamide production is by exercising. Your body created the energy and prepared itself to use it in the most efficient way possible. The best way to expend that energy is through exercise. Many experts assert that exercise is as good as, if not better than, most stress or anxiety medications (4).

Manage Your Emotional Stress

Family gatherings can be both a source of immense joy and consternation. Even the most close-knit families can overdose on togetherness. Holiday gatherings this season will be dominated by the current contentious political issues and events. Polarizing conversations that push tolerance and stress levels to the brink are likely. Matters may be compounded by families that fall into old roles related to who a member of the family was rather than who they are now. You’ll always be your parents’ child, and someone will never forget the time you embarrassed yourself in front of everyone during a past holiday gathering.

Sometimes it is easier to accept that no holiday celebration is perfect. Despite our best efforts, sometimes things go wrong. Any missteps are an opportunity to exercise flexibility and resilience while creating family memories. Try to avoid conversation about religion and politics whenever possible. If tensions begin to rise, calmly excuse yourself and escape to your happy place. When you can only get away for a moment or two, CBD provides near-immediate relief from the symptoms of stress.

Seriously, CBD Can Help!

In recent years, individuals seeking natural alternatives to harsh pharmaceuticals turned to CBD for its ability to help with a variety of ailments, particularly stress and anxiety. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is the primary, non-intoxicating constituent of hemp. Clinical research on CBD’s effects and usage is limited but growing. However, ample anecdotal evidence exists. Most users report that CBD is very effective at easing symptoms of stress and anxiety.

CBD works by inhibiting the enzyme that degrades anandamide, thereby allowing the body to calm itself more effectively naturally (3). Despite being derived from cannabis, CBD is non-intoxicating. It does not cause the user to feel euphoric or “high” like its marijuana-derived counterpart, THC. Given the relatively safe profile of cannabis-derived compounds compared to conventional medication, research suggests that CBD and specific terpenes found in cannabis may be a potential complementary treatment or even replacement for traditional anxiety medications (2).

CBD is available in capsules, gummies, tinctures, and vaporizers, making it easily portable and consumed discretely. However, the effect and onset time varies depending on the delivery method. Capsules and edibles like gummies must pass through the digestive system and liver before the user perceives any effects, which can take 45 minutes or more. Vaporizers are the quickest. Some users report feeling the calming effects of CBD within a minute or two of vaping. For individuals who wish to avoid the potential risks associated with vaping, tinctures are the next best solution. When taken from a tincture, the user holds drops of CBD oil under the tongue for about a minute. The number of drops depends on the potency of the oil and the individual. But tincture users report feeling relief in as little as five minutes after taking CBD under the tongue.

Image by Erin Stone from Pixabay

When shopping for CBD, ensure that you purchase from a reputable source that provides testing analysis through a third-party company. Big brands aren’t always better, either. If you’re sensitive to MCTs or coconut oil, avoid big brands since they typically use MCTs to improve shelf life. Always use CBD produced in the US using only US ingredients. Some brands use foreign-sourced hemp, which can contain pesticides and heavy metals.

It’s natural to feel some stress during the holidays. However, the great thing about holiday stress is that it is predictable. We know when holiday stress will begin and that it will end eventually. With a little planning, one can all but coast through the stressful holiday season with little or no stress.

Citations

  1. Bluett, R. J., Gamble-George, J. C., Hermanson, D. J., Hartley, N. D., 
    Marnett, L. J., & Patel, S. (2014, July). Central anandamide deficiency predicts stress-induced anxiety: behavioral reversal through endocannabinoid augmentation. Translational Psychiatry, 4(7), e408. 10.1038/tp.2014.53
  2. Leu, R. (2020, July 16). Exploring the Role of Cannabidiol-Monoterpene Formulations in Modulating Anxiety Symptoms.” Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository, (7090). https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/7090
  3. Mechoulam, R., Peters, M., Murillo-Rodriguez, E., & Hanus, L. (2007, September). Cannabidiol — Recent Advances. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 4(8), 1678–1692. PubMed. 10.1002/cbdv.200790147
  4. Ratey, J. J. (2019, October 24). Can exercise help treat anxiety? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-help-treat-anxiety-2019102418096