Between parties, gift shopping and the onslaught of relatives coming into town, the holidays bring plenty of reasons to feel run down. However, the fatigue and stress you feel during the holidays could negatively impact your health long after the decorations have been put away.
Negative Effects of Stress
Stress is never a good thing, but occasional stress is just part of life. However, experiencing long-term stress and anxiety over days, weeks or months can be especially harmful.
When the body is faced with a challenge or issue, it responds through a stress response. You may feel an adrenaline rush known as "fight or flight," which was useful for our caveman ancestors when confronting a saber-tooth tiger, or you may simply feel anxious and nervous. What triggers your stress during this time of year may be planning an event or even having your kids home from school after months of a set routine.
Whatever it is, the impact stress can have on the body can be felt and seen inside and out. Here are some of the common side effects of chronic stress:
Decreased Immunity -- The immune system is weakened body is less ready and able to fight off viral, bacterial and fungal infections when under stress. This explains why a common cold may seem to arrive right when you have the most going on and can't afford to slow down.
Weight Gain -- Stress triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone is supposed to help the body cope with the stress. However, it can also lead to excess weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. This brings plenty of negative health effects.
Pain -- Headaches, migraines and general aches throughout the body can all be caused by too much stress and you may notice the frequency and severity of these issues increase.
Poor Sleep -- When you're stressed out, you may toss and turn all night long and wake feeling more tired than when you went to bed. Not getting enough quality sleep also causes fatigue, which we'll get to next.
Negative Effects of Fatigue
Fatigue is a symptom that can greatly interfere with your life. When you're fatigued, you may feel constantly tired or feel you have zero energy.
This lethargic feeling can be the result of stress or from an over-packed schedule, two common problems during the holiday season. It can also be a side effect of depression or anxiety. Seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression or SAD, can also occur during this time of year.
Becoming too run down and fatigued can put the brakes on the rest of the season and even affect the time after. Fatigue can cause you to miss work or school and severely affect your productivity. Fatigue can also cause lapses in memory, poor concentration and headaches. Your relationships may also suffer. So don’t let a joyous season bring you down in the long run.
If your fatigue lasts for more than two weeks, it's time to see a doctor to discuss your mental and physical health and check for any underlying issues. Fatigue that cannot be linked to an underlying medical condition and doesn't improve with sleep is known as chronic fatigue syndrome. The symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome also include muscle pain, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, joint pain and inflammation as well as extreme exhaustion. In this extreme, it's known as fibromyalgia and can be very difficult to treat because the causes are very multifactorial.
Natural Solutions for Stress and Fatigue
Combating stress and the fatigue it may cause are key for not only a smooth holiday season, but continued wellness. Here are some suggestions to keep yourself on track:
Make sleep a priority, aiming for seven to eight hours a night of quality sleep. This means total darkness and quiet. Even an LED light from your clock can be disruptive. If you are in a noisy environment or can’t block all the light, consider earplugs or a sleep mask.
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. The standard is eight glasses a day, but this varies by your height and weight as well as weather and exercise habits.
Continue your exercise routine as best as possible. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise every single day.
Try yoga or meditation to ease stress and help yourself sleep.
Stretch daily to relax and relieve muscle tension. This is often ignored as part of an exercise and wellness program but will prevent injury and keep your joints healthy.
Limit coffee and alcohol consumption.
Supplements and nutrients which may help support you through stressful times include:
D-ribose to help alleviate clinical fatigue symptoms.
St. John’s wort, valerian extract, melatonin or chamomile tea may help promote sleep and alleviate anxiety.
Try to stick to an antioxidant anti-inflammatory diet, such as an old school Mediterranean Diet, which may help reduce oxidative stress damage to your body and stave off chronic diseases.
If your stress and/or fatigue seem to be interfering with your life, speak with your physician to check for any medical issues and determine the best course of treatment. Always share what supplements or herbals you may be using with your doctor and preferably inquire before starting any natural remedies. This is especially true if you are already on medications, because interactions between prescribed pharmaceuticals and natural remedies can be dangerous.
Stay well and Happy Holidays!