Are You in the Holiday Spirit or Holiday Stress?
The spirit of the season is upon us. It began with counting our blessings during the Thanksgiving holiday.
If we allowed ourselves to harness the physical and mental health benefits of gratitude, we likely felt rejuvenated, inspired, and refreshed from igniting this emotional state.
Yet, holding onto these invigorating feelings throughout the year can be a challenge. With all the beauty and gifts that the holidays bring, they are also a source of stress, expectations, and triggers.
For many people, the extra shopping, additional gatherings, and further preparations often bring about a feeling of overwhelm. This spur of activity, on top of the already chronic upheaval of the current world circumstances, can heighten the intensity of emotions that may be prompted by various aspects of these events.
If you are feeling more unsettled than uplifted, you are not alone.
In this post, I will review:
- the statistics on holiday stress
- the top holiday stressor of this year
- mental health and the holidays
- stress effects on the brain and body
- the good news: how to counter the detrimental effects of holiday stress and enhance your emotional and physical health
This information is intended to help you understand why we need to take our emotional wellness and self-care seriously during this time of year, and throughout our lives. I hope it will help you to gain more serenity within the particularly busy months ahead.
Holiday Stress Statistics
Everlywell included the following survey results within their compilation of holiday stress statistics:*
- 88% of Americans felt stressed while celebrating the holidays. (Perrigo,via PR Newswire, 2018)
- On average, more women than men reported feeling stressed around the holidays. (American Psychological Association (APA), 2006)
- 38% of female survey respondents stated they were stressed about holiday costs. (Ellevest, 2021)
- 43% of 2000 survey participants indicated feeling more stressed about the 2021 holiday season than 2020. (Walgreens)
- Holiday shopping and planning was more prevalent for women, and they felt more stressed from the limited time available to get everything done. (APA, 2006)
- For American parents with children, holiday stress started earlier, with 27% reporting it began in November. (Total Brain, 2019)
- Commonly reported emotions during the holidays included fatigue, stress, irritability, and sadness. (APA, 2006)
- A decrease in stress was found prior to 2020 in those aged 30 and younger. (This is likely reversed now.) (APA, 2006)
- Leading causes of stress included: lack of time, lack of money, commercialism or hype, pressure of giving or getting gifts, and staying on a diet. (APA, 2006)
- A 2021 survey identified that U.S. residents were also stressed about gifts getting delivered late or being lost in the mail. (Walgreens)
*Survey results reported differences that were based on cisgender men and women. Reports for other genders weren’t specified at the time, but I’m sure we will be seeing more inclusive surveys in the future.
Finances, A Holiday Top Stressor
What seems to rate at the top of many people’s stress list in 2022 is finances. In a recent survey of over 1,000 people, 57% of participants answered that they were either ‘much more concerned” (25%) or “somewhat more concerned” (32%) with holiday spending this year than last. Due to this year’s heightened economical strains, the report concluded that “Most consumers believe that shopping will have a negative effect on their holiday spirit this year.”
Mental Health and the Holidays
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
… For individuals and families coping with mental health challenges, the holiday season can be a lonely or stressful time, filled with anxiety and/or depression.
If you’re living with a mental health condition, stress can also contribute to worsening symptoms. Examples: in schizophrenia, it can encourage hallucinations and delusions; in bipolar, it can trigger episodes of both mania and depression. The … crisis has made maintaining mental health more challenging for so many.
Furthermore, Rush Memorial Hospital stated the following regarding finances and mental health:
The less we earn and the more we buy, the worse it gets. This is true for everyone, but particularly for those with mental illness. This is because mental illness can affect both how much money we make and how much money we spend.
Stress on the Brain and Body
Not only does chronic stress perpetuate symptoms in those with brain processing differences, but it also rewires the brain in every human. For those not currently labeled with a mental health issue, unrelenting stress can increase their risk for psychiatric disorders.
Specifically, long-term, chronic stress can downregulate neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) while enhancing connections to the limbic, emotional brain (amygdala and hippocampus). This can change one’s ability to cope effectively and think rationally, resulting in mental and relationship problems. It can also bring about a loss of memory that is so imperative for festivity planning. (source, source, source, source)
To add insult to injury, stress can also cause a wide range of other bodily symptoms that varies with the individual based on their specific vulnerabilities. This is because stress has an impact on hormonal balance, immune function, and every other system of the body.
The Good News
Now that you feel less alone, and perhaps even more stressed about feeling stressed, don’t worry.
There’s good news.
We aren’t all doomed to suffer with emotional and physical havoc.
There are many ways to manage stress, and some of these ways even promote more health as they soothe the mind. This is because they can enhance our cellular physiology and gene expression. For example, mind-body techniques, laughter, relaxation, lifestyle practices, and self-care all have been found to influence these epigenetic pathways that could be hijacked by feeling inundated with emotional upheaval.
Perhaps one of my favorite modalities for calming the brain and body are, you guessed it, essential oils.
Not only have specific essential oils been found to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, they also have profound mood, brain, and mind-body balancing effects. They accomplish this through modulating brain signals (neurotransmitters), shifting our brainwaves, calming our emotions, enhancing cognition, and supporting cellular physiology.
Specifically, essential oils’ aroma can hijack the negative cascade of stress at the source while their biological properties work in harmony to rebalance the nervous system and hormonal milieu. This can be extremely supportive for everyone, including those with psychiatric disorders and behavioral issues.
Emotions in a Bottle
Some of my favorite oils to help one manage emotions are found in manufactured blends from quality essential oils manufacturers. They often are labeled as a particular mood state. This may appear as a marketing ploy, but I assure you, there is some science to this.
Besides what is noted above, previously I presented several reasons why “emotions in a bottle” are legit. These included:
- Smells can evoke an emotional response based on previous associations of the sniffer.
- Odors have been demonstrated to effect psychology, physiology, and biochemistry through their interactions with odor receptors in the body. This means that beyond smell, odorant molecules excerpt their own biological effects independently.
- The ability to detect odors has been correlated to neurological disorders and longevity. This indicates how the sense of smell is intricately linked to the nervous system and health outcomes.
- Certain odors can trigger memories based on one’s previous associations and lead to specific behavioral responses.
- Smell can impact emotional intelligence (EI), a determinant of social connection.
An Oil Blend to Decrease Stress and Enhance Gratitude
Combining the benefits of feeling gratitude with the stress-relieving properties of essential oils, the oils in my favorite gratitude blend are a perfect fit for this time of year.
The essential oils in it display how a mixture of single oils, and their constituents, can combine to assist your body and mind to become more thankful. These include:
- A Fusion of Comforting Conifer Tree Oils: Balsam Canada (Abies balsamea) Needle and Northern Lights Black Spruce (Picea mariana)
- A Sacred Duo for Emotional and Physical Balance: Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) Oil and Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) Oil
- The Calming Citrus Scent of Bergamot (Citrus aurantium bergamia) (Furocoumarin-free) Peel Oil
- The Balancing Chemistry of Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) Seed Oil
- The Heart Supporting Scent of Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) Flower oil
- The “Reset Refresher”, Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides) Root Oil
- The Tonifying Tension Relief of Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens†) Flower Oil
If you’d like to explore more about these oils and their specific functions, please go here.
Summary: Calming Stress and Our Senses for the Season
The holiday season brings with it much joy, and often a lot of stress. If you are on overwhelm, you are not alone. With the additional strains related to the state of our world, it is important to have excellent self-care and to be mindful of any emotional upheavals that can hijack your brain and body.
I’ve previously provided an integrative mental health and stress resource guide. Though the theme at the time was back to school, these posts can also be used for the holidays.
(1) integrative mental health
(2) naturopathic and integrative stress relief tips
(3) cognitive and brain health support
(4) mind-body medicine for easing tension
(5) essential oils to help balance emotions, mental health, and nourish the body.
I hope you will use this information to assist you with finding a state of more ease, calm, and peace during the holidays. Throughout the upcoming months, I will sprinkle in more articles with additional essential oils education and describe how they can support you through times of stress, and in life in general.
Many blessings for a beautiful holiday season.
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Hormonal, Digestive, and Mood Support
Free resources and more education on essential oils and mind-body wellness are available to you here.
An Integrative Mental Health and Stress Resource Guide.
Tools for coping with isolation and separation.
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Disclaimer: 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.)
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.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.