Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

How to manage holiday season stress

Look to the 3 "E"s – exercise, eating well, and escape – for relief

Stress in small doses is good for you, Kate Andrews points out. In fact, it’s one reason we’ve survived as a species. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that gears up the body for the fight-or-flight response.

“It’s bad when it becomes chronic,” says the Personal Fitness Trainer instructor, whose expertise includes the psychological benefits of exercise and nutrition.

Cortisol blocks immune and body repair functions and leads to high blood pressure. Fight and flight aren’t hallmarks of the season, but the frenzy of cooking, shopping, baking and scheduling have an alarmingly similar effect.

“As we ramp up to Christmas we don’t give ourselves a reprieve from that stress.”

To help us cope with the holidays, Andrews offers simple remedies for the frustration and headaches that may come with the most wonderful time of the year. “The whole point of the holiday season is to be happy and fun-loving with family and friends,” she says. Here’s how.

Exercise

Because of its role in our everyday activities, exercise is an easy-to-execute stress-buster. “Even small bouts of intense activity – three minutes – can help reduce cortisol levels and balance the physiology of the body again,” says Andrews.

Park at the opposite end of the mall for a short hike.

Walking is a perfect example. Park at the opposite end of the mall for a short hike to get the blood pumping. “If you think of West Edmonton Mall,” she says, “that’s six kilometres.”

Or, if you can spare 20 minutes a day, hop on a treadmill or stationary bike. The “talk test” will tell you if you’re working hard enough (at 60 to 85 per cent maximum heart rate). If someone asks how it’s going, “You say, ‘I’m good thanks,’ and that would be about all you could get in before you have to take a breath.”

Eat

With all the sugar, salt and fat, Christmas is one of the tastiest and most tempting times of year. “That’s just the nature of the beast,” says Andrews. It goes without saying that we should resist over-indulging.

More importantly, ensure the delicacies of the season don’t displace the necessities. “Get your veggies in,” says Andrews, “even if it’s Booster Juice. Anything to get those vitamins and nutrients.”

Her trick: mix fruits and vegetables in a blender and drink them (check out her suggestions below). It gives her a boost of energy that keeps the body and its processes in good working order. “I can tell when I haven’t had my jar of vegetables and fruits.”

Escape

This may be the season of giving, but you still have to take time for yourself. This can mean closing the bathroom door and sinking into the tub for an hour, but it also means disconnecting so you can re-establish the connection between the mind and body – that essential awareness of your own basic needs.

Remember to breathe.

“Shut the smartphone off for half an hour,” says Andrews. Say no to that get-together once in a while (though socializing, she points out, can also help blow off steam). Remember to breathe. “Oxygen is the fuel for our cells. Three deep breaths in, I always say, when you’re feeling a little bit stressed.”

Simplest of all: pause to reflect upon the positive. In the midst of Christmas busyness, says Andrews, “take the time to think of those little things we take for granted.”

Then, when the new year comes, resolve to turn all of the above into habits. Make them routines, rather than remedies.

Kate Andrews' fruit-and-veggie mix

Andrews starts her blends with a base of vegetables, always ensuring a good variety that includes something green and leafy. She adds her favourite fruits for flavour and vitamin C. Here are some options:

  • kale or spinach
  • ginger
  • carrot
  • celery
  • cucumber
  • beet
  • lemon juice (real lemons)
  • berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries)
  • pineapple
  • apple
  • banana
     

Start with just a cup a day – this is a high-fibre mix.


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