We all know the holidays bring tons of cheer, laughter, and fruitcake. But the hectic holiday season can be a stressful one (also nothing new), which could have an affect on your brain.
The responsibilities of a Christmas social calendar can lead to stress build-up, putting the brain in overdrive, affecting the body’s physical and mental well being. Stressors can differ for everyone, from end-of-year work deadlines to classic family tension.
Dr. Brynn Winegard, professor and business-brain science expert, says everyone reacts to stress differently — some stress is actually agreeable for some as motivation, but for others, it can lead to the brain releasing a particular type of hormone.
“The brain, we say, circulates something called cortisol, and that is one of the families of glucocorticoids, which are stress hormones. When you start circulating those stress hormones, you end up with some compromised abilities,” says Winegard, who teaches at the Schulich School of Business, DeGroote School of Business, and the University of Guelph.
“So your brain isn’t processing things the way that it should be. And ultimately, it’s stressing your whole system. So not just your brain, but the whole body and your whole hormonal cycle,” she added.
Cortisol can disrupt sleep, suppress the immune system, and create senses of depression and anxiety.
“It’s this sort of downward spiral if you will. As you start getting stressed, and you stay stressed, you get more and more stressed and it’s very hard to climb out of.”
Don’t stress out – we’ll share a few ways to minimize the stress and anxiety that comes with Christmas.
Make the most of your mornings
According to research by Centrum, two-thirds of Canadians feel how they go about their morning makes a significant difference throughout their day. Additional research supports the idea our bodies have the most energy, motivation, and willpower when they first get up from a night’s slumber.
“We tend to over-estimate how much we can get done in a set period of time — morning routines help mitigate the negative effects of this common cognitive error,” explains Winegard.
Even with the busyness of the holidays, try planning your mornings the night before, so you can get your day off to a good start, with a clear mind to tackle the day ahead.
You don’t need to do anything out of the ordinary; it can involve simply taking your daily vitamins, getting some exercise, or consistently eating a balanced breakfast.
Take time for yourself
‘Tis the season of giving, but don’t forget to give yourself some much needed alone time, and doing what makes you happy, whether that’s exercise, meditation, or creative endeavours.
Those small activities can keep you distracted, and stress levels manageable. Even when the holidays get chaotic, don’t sacrifice your happiness – it’ll add up.
“Working with your natural tendencies instead of against them is the best way to create better habits and more productive days.”
Enjoy the now
With all that’s happening during the holidays, it’s important to never forget to actually enjoy them.
When the time’s flying by, don’t let it pass you unnoticed. If you don’t stop and smell the gingerbread cookies, the beauty of the holidays will all be for naught.
“Practicing mindfulness through cognitive deliberateness has been shown to help ease anxiety, decrease stress levels, improve efficacy, as well as increase productivity on the task at hand.”
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