Fun, festivities, friends, family, and food play a significant part during the holidays, but the season also carries a dark side. And no, we’re not talking about the shorter days. Perhaps more than any other time of year, the holidays can trigger anxiety. While other mood disorders like depression get center focus, many of us feel a persistent, unpleasant, low-grade anxiety as the holidays approach.
You might feel mounting pressure to create the perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, and finding a parking space and fighting the mall crowd to find that perfect gift can feel like a herculean feat. Plus, end-of-year work deadlines hinder what should be a festive time of year.
Symptoms of Anxiety and Its Effect on Your Health
Unlike many other mood disorders, anxiety wasn’t typically considered an illness before the 19th century. Yet research shows about one in three Americans today will struggle with an anxiety disorder at some point. There are different types of anxiety and it impacts everyone differently. While everyone feels anxiety sometimes, people with anxiety disorders often experience strong, persistent worry and fear about everyday situations, sometimes leading to panic attacks.
These feelings can disrupt well-being, interfere with daily activities, and make attending a holiday party akin to a minor battle. Signs and symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
- Sending impending danger, panic, or doom
- Increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
A little anxiety can give you the boost you need to, say, ace an exam or shine during a presentation, but chronic anxiety — when that feeling sticks around past its prime and becomes debilitating — spells bad news for your health.
How can anxiety affect your health? Studies associate this emotion with various concerns including heart disease. Anxiety can impede sleep as well as ramp up stress and other mood disorders. You’re more prone to grab second or third sugar cookies to assuage your emotions, which contribute to weight gain and obesity. At the very least, anxiety can hijack your happiness and wellbeing.
If you suffer from debilitating anxiety, anxiety disorders, depression, or other mood disorders that impede your daily joy and happiness, please don’t dismiss those feelings as insignificant or something to trooper through. Visit a healthcare professional who can discuss options to help manage these feelings.
Managing Anxiety and Stress
The good news is that you have plenty of control over how you manage those feelings. Anxiety relief starts with how you eat and live. Among other obstacles, a poor diet can increase anxiety levels. You know the repercussions of eating that second peppermint bark brownie. Your blood sugar spikes and crashes, you become moodier, fighting the mall crowd for that perfect gift feels like a minor battle, and you just want to curl up on the couch and watch TV Christmas movies.
You have numerous opportunities every day to manage your anxiety with healthy food choices. That’s not to say you should never indulge, but when you do you’ll want to be mindful and buffer that sugar load with plenty of healthy, blood sugar-balancing foods.
Instead, you’ll want to choose anxiety-lowering foods. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like wild-caught fish can support brain health and overall well-being. One study among 68 medical students found that supplementing with fish oil could lower inflammation and anxiety. Healthy recipes like our Grilled Salmon with Basil Cream Sauce make a delicious way to get those anti-inflammatory eicosapentaenoic acids (EPAs) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t regularly eat wild-caught fish, consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
Complement that healthy protein and fat with plenty of non-starchy, fiber-rich plant foods. Research shows the flavonoids in fruits and vegetables can support brain health and improve mood disorders including anxiety and depression.
You’ll find our Core and Advanced Plans incorporate many healthy foods and recipes that provide the nutrients your body needs to stabilize blood sugar, optimize brain health, and support mood balance so you keep control on anxiety.
10 Ways to Encourage Positive Thinking and a Healthy Mindset
Beyond your diet, a healthy mindset can help cultivate positive emotions that impact health, especially as we grow older. These 10 strategies can help you effectively manage anxiety and other emotions so your holidays are healthy, happy, and productive.
1. Replace the negative with positive.
One study looked at worry among people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Researchers encouraged participants to replace worry with images or verbal descriptions of possible positive outcomes. They concluded that any form of positive reinforcement could decrease anxiety and worry. You probably have ample opportunity to practice positive reinforcement during the holidays. Instead of imagining the worst at social functions, use this positive thinking strategy and picture yourself showing up happy, healthy, smiling, and enjoying healthy food. See if your events prove more fulfilling with that positive mindset.
2. Get the right nutrients.
Eating well and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits can provide powerful mood support. But getting the right nutrients can also help stabilize blood sugar and reduce anxiety. One double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial among students found that vitamin C supplements could relieve anxiety. Our Vitamin C Complete combines therapeutic amounts of this vitamin with mood-supporting bioflavonoids. If anxiety affects your sleep, our Sleep & Mood Support can help you safely fall and stay asleep and not feel groggy in the morning like other sleeping aids.
3. Maintain a growth mindset.
New pursuits can boost self-confidence and reduce anxiety. Adults who mentally challenge themselves maintain healthier brains and lower their risk for diseases like Alzheimer’s. To prevent stress and anxiety, consider learning a new language, taking a class in a subject outside your comfort zone, volunteering at the local community center (especially important over the holidays!), or even working on crossword puzzles regularly rather than mindlessly watch TV.
4. Practice gratitude.
Research shows gratitude cultivates well-being while decreasing mood disorders including anxiety and depression. Gratitude can even help you sleep better and wake up more refreshed. Expressing gratitude can take many forms. You can reflect on the positive aspects of your life, keep a gratitude journal, give someone a meaningful “thank you,” and even find lessons to feel grateful about from challenging situations.
5. Focus on what you can control.
You can’t control the weather or how your kids will respond to your healthy recipes, but you have a choice about how you respond to those situations. Anxiety often develops and builds from stressing about things we have very little — if any — control over. Take control over those that you do, including healthy eating. For everything else, maintaining a positive mindset means understanding that you’ll do the best you can under those circumstances.
6. Fit in fitness.
Exercise can help to relieve anxiety. You’re familiar with the feel-good endorphins that follow a good workout, but regular fitness can also improve emotional resilience to make you better able to cope with familial tension and other anxiety-creating situations the holidays can create. Even during the most hectic holidays, you have 12 minutes to get a complete workout and manage anxiety with our MaxT3 program.
7. Turn obstacles into opportunities.
“Anxiety has long been one of the most feared enemies in our emotional canon,” writes Alicia H. Clark, in the New York Times, “We fear its arrival, feel helpless and trapped under its spell, and grant it the power to overtake us in new, exciting and challenging situations. But what if we’ve been going about it all wrong?” Instead of dreading or suppressing anxiety, recent research suggests to embrace this emotion and repurpose it as an exciting opportunity. In other words, anxiety isn’t bad; how you approach this emotion can make the difference between debilitating and exhilarating.
8. Don’t believe everything you think.
Pay attention to the tape loop of chatter within your mind and notice how that sort of thinking fuels mood imbalances like anxiety. You can’t shut down your mind, but you can detach and not believe every thought you have. “A thought is just that — a thought,” says Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D. and psychologist, “It has no emotional content attached to it. Observe and then dismiss the thought.”
9. Trade screen time for more quality time.
We stare at screens all day: working on computers at the office, watching the evening news before bed, and browsing our Facebook feed randomly. Find moments during the day where you deliberately unplug. To help prevent stress and anxiety, stay focused on your family or practice mindfulness during meals. Find rituals like meditation, deep breathing, and expressing gratitude to bookend your days. Pay attention to how your anxiety leaves your body when you unplug and recharge.
10. Visit your chiropractor.
Chiropractic care can release muscle tension, reduce spinal nerve irritation, improve blood circulation, and help you implement relaxation techniques that help balance your mood and reduce anxiety. Chiropractors can also help create an individualized nutrition and lifestyle protocol to help you better manage anxiety.
The holidays can trigger or exacerbate anxiety, stress, and other mood disorders. Yet under many conditions, you have a choice how you respond to those events. You can’t eliminate those situations or feelings, but you can learn to better manage them.
Worth repeating: If debilitating emotions overpower your life during the holidays or any time, please consult a healthcare professional. Nobody should ever have to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders that hijack health and happiness.