Stressed Out Bodies and Brains During the Holidays
The beginning of November is a time to begin preparing for the season of togetherness that is shared across cultures all over the world. Although specific traditions and celebrations may vary among neighbors across the globe, the underlying message remains the same for all… love. Love is powerful medicine.
Still, holidays aren’t perfect moments for everyone. In fact, the “most wonderful time of the year” can be the “most anxious time of year” for many. (source, source) This can be stirred by the extra time for holiday preparations, financial strain, diet culture pressures, and/or social gatherings with friends and family long forgotten (and for some better off forgotten?). In fact, in a recent survey of over 2,000 readers of Healthline, only 10% of respondents reported having no stress over the holidays.
According to an article on “Holiday Stress and the Brain,” on the Harvard Medical School website:
Because the holiday season often requires us to keep track of and pay attention to a greater number of responsibilities than usual, the brain’s prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive. Over time, a high level of demand can decrease memory, halt production of new brain cells, and cause existing brain cells to die. Fortunately, holiday stress is a special kind of stress: an acute reaction to an immediate threat. This sort of demand, Braaten says, is something we are more capable of dealing with. “Once the holidays are over,” she says, “we have ways of relaxing. The stress of the season goes away.”
A recent article reviewed the brain as the central organ for stress and adaption. It explored how prenatal stress and genetics, environmental triggers, and physiology all interact to create behavioral and physiological systemic responses to the immediate, chronic, real, or perceived stressor. For those interested in more of the science, it is worth a read for an overview of the neurobiological response and ways to mitigate it with lifestyle. The authors state in their conclusion a very straight-forward self-care approach that can help the body and brain adjust more effectively:
From the standpoint of the individual, a major goal should be to try to improve sleep quality and quantity, improve social support and promote a positive outlook on life, maintain a healthy diet, avoid smoking and have regular moderate physical activity. Concerning physical activity, it is not necessary to become an extreme athlete, and moderate physical activity has benefits for the brain and the body. (source)
Connecting for Better Health for the Holidays
We know that relationships are key to overall wellness. In fact, social connections are a major determinant of physical health outcomes, just as importantly as diet and exercise! This means that those who have the “discipline” to follow their food rules and fitness goals throughout the season may find they suffer more than others who can “let loose” and enjoy loved ones company over pumpkin pie.
I’m also aware that it is important to consider that during this politically heated and polarizing time, social gatherings could pose even more challenges. (source, source, source, source) For this reason, you may want to skim through some of my latest articles on tips for supporting healthy relationships and navigating through feelings of rejection.
The Sweetest Smells for Starting the Season with More Calm and Cheer: Aromatic Essential Oils
I have explored how essential oils can modulate the stress response and calm our mind-body in many articles. Details on how they support our emotions, physical health, and brain can be found on my database and a good summary with all the links can be found here. Furthermore, when added to the biochemical benefits of its secondary metabolites, the aromas themselves with memory retrieval. This is why you can literally blend up gratitude for the holidays.
Throughout the holiday seasons, I will be exploring specific essential oils and blends that can help with self-care and induce calm as we prepare for our times of togetherness. I will highlight how these powerful physiological, biochemical, and psychological holistic drops of inspiration can enhance harmony, create more upliftment, and help support more unity for this holiday season.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.