It’s nearly the holidays. Hooray! But wait, don’t forget the extra special blend of holiday stress for Mums to deal with. Whether its sibling arguments, extra shopping, cooking, more family activities and the awkwardness they can bring, or the over spending and stretching of the budget that comes with the holiday season.
Many Mums I talk to tell me they often feel like the holidays aren’t really a break for them. It feels like the stressors just keep on coming and they emerge the otherside of the holiday stress feeling:
- exhausted (but having trouble sleeping)
- pain (headaches, sore muscles or joints are common)
- tummy troubles (see my blog on the impact of stress on digestion)
Who is impacted by holiday stress?
Holiday stress can effect anyone, but I do notice the extra work that mothers put in to Christmas with little or no support from others in the family. The inequity between sexes is really apparent when we’re camping. Kids and partners are enjoying playing or doing fun things, while Mums are often working harder than they do at home to make food or look after their family. Mum’s workload doesn’t seem to get a holiday.
The pressure to make things ‘perfect’ for our kids and family is very real. We are surrounded by messages from the media that give unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others. Like, we can do it all (perfectly and beautifully!) and have it all, while serving up award-worthy or Instagram-worthy meals. Extended periods of time with people we don’t necessarily get along well with, or maybe wouldn’t normally choose to spend time with, increases the holiday stress load.
Add to this that many are mourning lost family or friends and it’s easy to understand why we can end up feeling depleted and overwhelmed rather than energised from holidays.
My best Tips to support your body during holiday stress
I’m always aiming to share easy-to-follow, practical advice and information. These tips aren’t any different! They are portable (you can even do them when camping!), simple, and cheap. But still valuable to help you support your body during this time. Really, these tips you can use at any time of increased stress, they’re not just for holidays.
1. Take a Cold Shower
Yes, seriously. It seems like it might be more stressful, but cold showers or swimming in cool water stimulates our vagal nerve. The vagal nerve runs from our brain to our anus and innervates our digestive system. When we switch on this powerful nerve, it switches us in to ‘rest and digest’ mode and out of ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode. If you’re not up for cold showers then other way to activate your vagal nerve are gargling, singing and humming.
2. Deep (Diaphragmatic) Breathing
When we are feeling stressed, our shoulders creep up to our ears, our muscles tense up and instead of filling all our lungs with air, we take short, shallow breaths. Each cell in our body needs oxygen to make the energy it needs to do its job and keep us running. Without oxygen we feel, well, tired! *Yawn* Deep breathing is fantastic for helping to switch your body down out of fight, flight or freeze mode and in to rest and digest mode (activating the parasympathetic nervous system).
Practice deep breathing when you are in a quiet, calm space, so that you can do it at other times when you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious. I love doing deep breathing if my mind is busy when I go to bed. It soon activates the mute button. 😴😴
- Sit or lie somewhere quiet and comfortable.
- Put one hand on your tummy, near your belly button. Place your other hand on your chest.
- Concentrate on your breathing, Inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Take notice of which hand is rising and falling with each breath.
- Gently exhale most of the air from your lungs.
- Inhale while counting in your head to 4. As you breathe in, slightly push out your belly. This should make your belly and hand rise up a few centimetres. Important: make sure your shoulders and chest aren’t rising up.
- Imagine the air you’re inhaling flowing deep down through to all parts of your body. Right down to your toes. Pause for one second after breathing in.
- Slowly breath out to the count of 4. As you do, your belly should move back toward your spine.
- While you’re breathing out, imagine tension, stress or worries leaving your body.
- Repeat for at least 5 rounds, or until you feel more relaxed.
3. Sleep it off
Holidays means staying up late, right? Except these days you still wake up at the same time, regardless of when you went to sleep. Annoying, huh?! Your body loves routine, including going to bed and waking at regular times. So do your body and mind a favour and go to bed at a time that helps you get 8 (or more!) hours sleep each night. Holiday stress is significantly reduced if you’re operating with a well-rested body and mind. You are less sensitive to stress when you’ve had a good nights sleep. Your brain has had an opportunity to rest, repair and rejuvenate. So your mental capacity to withstand holiday stress is much increased when your brain’s had the time it needs to rest.
Lack of sleep is very stressful for your body. It increases cortisol and adrenalin just like any other stressor. And it can make you as dangerous on the road as someone who has been drinking alcohol.So just like you wouldn’t drink and drive, please don’t drive when you’re sleep deprived.
4. eat chocolate and prawns
Hehehe. Yes, I seriously mean this!
Dark chocolate is a good source of magnesium. It must be at least 70% cacao to ensure you get anything of value from the chocolate without too much sugar. Plain dark chocolate helps avoid extra sugar that hides in the flavourings, creams and pastes that taste delicious in chocolate. Just a couple of squares is all you need. Beware that dark chocolate can be stimulating, so not too late in the day or evening or you’ll be up all night, ok?
Magnesium plays a very important role in our body, especially during holiday stress. As the great relaxing mineral it helps relax muscles. Magnesium is also valuable for helping with the production and function of our relaxing, happy, feel good neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA. Oh and importantly it helps us metabolise cortisol and adrenaline so they don’t get stick around longer than we need them for and cause damage to our body.
If you don’t want to eat dark chocolate, then magnesium is also found in leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli, quinoa, legumes and nuts. It wouldn’t be a blog post if I didn’t tell you to eat more vegetables, so here it is: eat your vegetables along with the dark chocolate!
So why prawns? Well shellfish like prawns are rich in zinc. Zinc is also super important to help us cope with holiday stress and is used in hundreds of reactions in the body. Again, we need it for neurotransmitter production, but also need it to make anti-oxidants, insulin, stomach acid and immune cells. With prolonged stress, our body becomes depleted in zinc. Ironically when we become depleted of zinc, it becomes harder for us to absorb it. If you don’t eat shellfish (or your budget doesn’t extend to them, I know ours doesn’t! Prawns for 6 adds up to $$$), then make sure you eat some animal products like meat (including poultry and fish), legumes and eggs each day.
5. Skip the Afternoon Caffeine
I’ve talked about my thoughts on caffeine before. You can find that blog here. Spoiler alert: caffeine is ok, except for stressed people. I’m not a total grinch though, and I do live in Melbourne, the coffee capital of the world, so I’m understanding of how important coffee is for life. However, if you’re feeling the effects of holiday stress, then I’d urge you to keep it to one per day, and definitely none in the afternoon.
6. mind the (refined) carbs
While we’re talking stimulants like caffeine, let’s talk refined carbs like sugar, white flours and ALCOHOL. There’s so much of it around in holidays. Lollies, biscuits, cakes, mince pies, pavlova, puddings, chips, crackers, soft drinks, cordial, juices, beer, wine, spirits… Every way you turn, there’s someone offering you a snack and a drink. Like I said, I’m not a total grinch. So if you choose to have some, then please do it with a sense of enjoyment and gratitude rather than guilt and shame. When you consume mindfully you’ll naturally have less because you are taking your time and savouring the flavour. If you’re gulping them down guiltily, you’ll end up getting in a lot more before your brain and stomach catch up and your body says stop.
When our cortisol levels are high, our liver gets signalled to make glucose for the muscles to use in case we need to run away or fight. Except modern stressors like holidays don’t really need us to do this. So the glucose just floats around in our bloodstream (until its eventually stored as fat around the abdomen), causing damage to our blood vessels and increasing inflammation in the body. Did you know that the symptoms of high blood sugar levels are similar to low blood sugar levels?
Alternating high and low blood sugar levels leave you cranky and exhausted. It’s hard work for your body and very stressful, which increases cortisol more! Our mood is also heavily impacted by our blood sugar levels. Especially around mid-afternoon. And that’s often when the cravings come. Coffee. Sugar. Chips. Any and all the simple carbohydrates and stimulants. Some crave alcohol or drugs. You can read more in this blog I wrote about why you feel tired mid-afternoon.
So adding to that load with refined carbs like alcohol, sugar and baked goods may feel nice for a bit, but it puts your body (liver and pancreas especially) under so much pressure that you will end up feeling crappy in the long run. Sugar needs lots of water to keep it in solution in your bloodstream. So if you are eating sweets or foods that quickly turn to glucose in the body (eg white flour products, alcohol), then please drink plenty of water with it.
Current government guidelines for alcohol consumption can be found here. Also please know that your body prioritises the processing of alcohol over everything else like cortisol, hormones, and toxins. That’s how damaging your body considers it.
7. Move Your Body and Have a Lie Down
Well, that’s kind of mixed information, isn’t it?! Seriously though, both will help your body metabolise and clear out cortisol and adrenalin. However, when I say move your body, I don’t mean high intensity running or those HIIT classes for stressed people.
Let’s look at a lie down first since it’s probably more appealing for when you’re on holidays. Having a 20-minute lie down helps support your adrenal glands (little tiny pyramids on top of your kidneys). These tiny glands make all your cortisol, so they can get a right workout from holiday stress. For the lie down to help, you need to be flat on your back and also NOT LOOKING AT YOUR PHONE! Yes all caps, it’s that important. You could put a meditation on, or listen to an audio book (as long as it isn’t too scary, thrilling or agitating), but part of the benefit is from reducing stressors. I like Buddhify or Smiling Mind apps for meditations.
When it comes to stressed people and exercise, we’re going for gentle and soothing. Things like:
- Walking (especially in nature, like the beach, parks or forest)
- Pilates (especially reformer)
- Gentle, lower intensity, bike riding
- Dancing (not so low intensity, but very FUN which helps you get in to rest and digest mode)
- Roller skating (ok, maybe that’s just my favourite) or anything else that you love (maybe it’s dancing, geocaching or ice skating!)
- Resistance or weight bearing workouts
Two of the most important things when it comes to moving your body to help reduce holiday stress are:
- you enjoy the activity and
- it gently moves your large muscles to help your body clear those stress hormones out. But without raising your heart rate too much so that exercise becomes another stressor for your body.
8. Realistic expectations
Holidays are rife with triggers from our own and other people’s expectations of us and our kids. Keeping it realistic is hard work. It takes time and persistence to undo years of conditioning about what we ‘should’ be able to do. But really, how many strawberries can you make out of sh*t? And why should you even have to?!
One way I keep my expectations of myself realistic is to assign an amount of time to each task on my ‘To Do’ list. And then I double it. Because tasks and chores with kids around means it takes twice as long. So if I have tasks that add up to more time than I have on my list I have to prioritise and work out what I’m going to delegate, relegate or delete. Decide what is important and limit your efforts to that goal. Realistically I can only achieve so much in the time that I have each day. The same is true for you.
I could write so much about expectations. But instead, I’m just going to urge you to think about why you have an expectation of how and why something should be done or kids should behave, and why are you being expected to do it on your own? If other people don’t like that you aren’t doing something, then please remind them that they can do it if it’s a priority for them. What I tell many of my clients is that change is uncomfortable not just for you, but those around you as they have to adjust to you setting and maintaining boundaries. In time, the discomfort will pass and you’ll feel better for it.
Oh, and one more thing. It’s ok to talk about how you’re feeling. In fact, it’s a big part of managing holiday stress. Saying “I’m feeling stressed/overwhelmed/anxious/worried…” give other people the opportunity to support you, when they otherwise wouldn’t know how you’re feeling. Talking about how you’re feeling is a valuable lesson for your kids too. They can learn about expressing feelings, asking for support and help is ok, and see you as a person with feelings, dreams and goals just like them. Not some fembot who powers through each day with no emotions showing.
9. Switch Off
Ok, so this one supports your realistic expectations. Switch off from social media as much as you can. At the very least, stop following accounts that leave you feeling like you’re not good enough or lacking in some way. remember we only see a small snippet of people’s lives on social media. The small snippets that they’ve cultivated and groomed to be perfect. Life isn’t perfect.
From a physical perspective, social media and technology use (including the TV) can stimulate our stress response. Increasing dopamine, cortisol and adrenaline. The devices we view them on also emit blue light, which interferes with our serotonin and melatonin production. Reducing our happy, feel-good neurotransmitters and disrupting our body’s circadian rhythm and mechanisms it uses to help us sleep.
10. Go It Alone
Lastly, and probably most importantly, spend some time on your own each day, doing something you enjoy. Maybe that’s reading a book, having a hot cup of tea, a lie-down, or a bath. Whatever you love to do. When I’m at the beach and it’s warm enough to swim, I love floating on my back. It’s blissfully quiet with your ears in the water, I can only look up at the sky, and so my mind switches off. Obviously, I can’t do this every day since I live in the hills of Melbourne. Other things I love to do on my own to reduce holiday stress are:
- sit with a cup of tea on the deck and watch the birds in the trees
- have an Epsom salt bath
- go for a walk or bike ride
- swim some laps at the local pool
- read a book
- have a lie-down
Holiday stress is often unavoidable, especially for Mums. By including these simple things in your day, you can support and nourish your body to build its resilience to holiday stress. You’ll make it through the holidays with more energy and less anxiety and irritability. And if nothing else, you’ll enjoy eating dark chocolate and prawns!
Feel like you’ve tried lots of things but still feeling stressed and overwhelmed and worried about burnout or the feeling that something isn’t right in your body? I’m here to help you feel more like you did before you had kids – you know, energetic, calm and worry-free! Book your free 15-minute discovery call here.