The holidays can be a stressful time of year for many people and, although we generally think of that stress as affecting our mental health, it greatly impacts our immune system as well. These past few years especially, we’ve learned how important healthy immune function is to our overall well-being. With COVID still lurking, and the cold and flu season now upon us as well, you need some basic reminders to keep stress at bay and your health on board.
Stress affects your immune system
One thing we know for sure is that stress and mental illness impact the body at the physical level. Stress affects nearly every part of the physical body, from the immune system to cardiovascular health. When there is external stress, certain hormones are released that decrease the production of white blood cells, your body’s main immune defense. As well, digestion slows, and heart rate and blood pressure increase. Not good! Stress is also known to increase blood cholesterol levels, putting you at even more risk for heart disease.
Just reading these facts may have stressed you out. That’s normal; health is important, and those are some scary effects from stress. However, living in a constant state of stress is not normal; this is where the body begins to have problems with normal functioning. Too many of us live here. However, we have suggestions for reducing your stress level and keeping it zen this season.
Take physical care
When we’re stressed, we tend to fall into unhealthy eating habits, like consuming too much alcohol and turning to carb and fat-rich comfort foods. Just don’t! Determine ahead of time this holiday season to be intentional in your physical well-being and start with what you eat. Stick to eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins and whole grains. Consuming healthy fats and little to no sugar is another way to stay in tip-top shape.
It may be tempting to grab a whole handful of your favorite holiday treat, but limit yourself to a small serving and relish the deliciousness of every bite. The same goes for alcohol consumption. Social events and gatherings may tempt you to constantly have a drink in your hand, but keep your health in mind by grabbing a sparkling water or virgin cocktail instead. Warm winter drinks like mulled cider and spiced tea are great for your immune system and are perfect seasonal options to sip at social occasions as well.
Movement is another great stress-reliever and immune-booster. Whether you enjoy swimming, jogging, bundling up for a walk outdoors or attending classes at a Hancock Wellness Center, you’ll benefit if you incorporate some enjoyable movement into your routine every day. Some days, especially around the holidays, we’re so busy that we choose to skip our normal exercise routine. If that describes you, substitute a fun family outing for the gym. Take a walk outside, build a snowman or have a snowball war, start a dance party or even play “the floor is lava” with your kids. It all counts as movement!
Me time is OK
The holidays are all about giving, which is a beautiful goal, but don’t give so much that you exhaust yourself. During this darker and colder time of year, self-care routines are a huge stress-buster. Take a warm bath, pause for some quiet time to reflect and journal or simply curl up in a soft blanket with a just-for-fun book and see how nourished your soul feels. Choose activities just for you and intentionally make time for them weekly if not daily. Your stress levels will plummet when you allow yourself to truly relax into calming activities you love.
Although staying healthy year-round is important, it’s vital to curb stress during a hectic holiday season. By eating well, sticking to a movement or exercise regimen and making time for self-care, you can ward off some of stress’ effects and boost your health. Whether your plans include big celebrations or quiet comfort at home, we hope you have a safe and healthy holiday season!