While stressful events can affect us at any time of the year, the holidays in particular can produce incredibly high cortisol levels! When we are exposed to elevated levels of stress hormones for prolonged periods of time the result is increased inflammation, weight gain, high blood sugar, decreased immune function and decreased ability to heal from injuries.
While it is nearly impossible to completely eliminate stress from our lives, we can modulate the effect on our system by following a few simple guidelines:
1. Balance: The greater the amount of stress, the greater the need for exercise. A combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise is very effective at lowering cortisol levels. If stress levels have recently doubled for you, then time spent exercising needs to double to compensate. If the amount of exercise needed seems outrageous, then likely something needs to change to reduce the stress load.
2. Sleep: When we are feeling stressed, often sleep quality and quantity suffer. In addition, insomnia increases levels of stress hormones, leading to all of the negative outcomes listed above. We actually need more sleep when we are under stress and less when stress levels are low. Set aside plenty of time to wind down at night to prepare for sleep. Keep phones, computers and televisions out of the bedroom. Use natural sleep aids if needed to ensure that you get enough rest.
3. Feeding the Soul: Running around trying to accomplish a long list of tasks can make you feel like an automaton. Bring richness back into your life with little changes like a short daily meditation, prayer or yoga session. Decorate your home seasonally with items that are both functional and beautiful. Schedule time to meet with a friend you don’t see often. Take time out in nature alone to fully appreciate its treasures. Re-visit your life’s priorities–are you living in alignment with them?