December is a stressful month for almost everyone. Work deadlines, extra expenses, and family drama can create a perfect storm of anxiety and dread. And stress doesn’t just mean a mild sense of discomfort or a little trouble sleeping. Research suggests that up to 80 percent of visits to the doctor have a stress-related component behind them. While we can’t make that stress go away, we have come up with a number of suggestions that can make you better able to tolerate it.
Get Some Vitamin D
Make sure your daily multivitamin includes vitamin D. Plenty of clinical research has drawn connections between low vitamin D status and increased feelings of depression. Since we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight, it’s easy to see why we may feel more stressed in the bleak winter months. Try to get some daily sun exposure, but take a supplemental daily dose of Vitamin D to cover your bases.
Stress and exercise is a double-edged sword. On one hand, research shows that exercise protects against the negative emotional consequences of stress. On the other hand, behavioral scientists have found out that stress actually inhibits the desire to hit the gym. The impetus is on you to attach a sense of urgency to your training over the holidays. Find a partner, book a trainer, or block it out on your schedule like it’s a work priority or social invitation. Just get it done.
Take a Probiotic
Every day we learn more about how the brain and the gut are closely aligned. A dysfunction in the gut biome can create a feedback loop that expresses itself in anxiety. A daily probiotic can help alleviate these feelings of stress. Find a product that provides at least one billion CFUs (colony forming units) per dose.
In a national survey of yoga practitioners, 85 percent felt that yoga improved their daily energy and 87 percent indicated that it increased feelings of happiness. The majority of respondents also felt that the quality of their sleep, relationships, and weight maintenance (all potential sources of stress) improved significantly as well.
Make Time for Sex
Your greatest weapon against stress might be snoring in bed next to you. Research performed by the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Arizona State University found that women who experienced physical affection or sexual intimacy with a partner on one day, felt less stress and a higher positive mood the following day. The same study found that improved mood and reduced stress in turn increased the likelihood of future sex and physical affection. Win-win.
If you have been feeling “holiday stress” since St. Patrick’s Day, there is a chance it might be something more profound, such as clinical depression. Your doctor is a good first step to ruling out physical reasons for mental health challenges, and can help you navigate your next course of treatment.