Many people look forward to the holiday season and the start of a new year. It can provide an opportunity to spend quality time with family, take a few days off from work, go on a winter vacation, and get ready for for the coming year.
However, these positive thoughts can often come with a side of holiday stress, anxiety, and depression for some. The combined effort of shopping, attending social events, entertaining guests (and dealing with annoying relatives) can quickly become overwhelming.
Try these four proven methods for keeping stress at bay during the holidays:
Exercise…and More Exercise
Aerobic exercise is key for your brain health, just as it is for your heart health. Aerobic exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
Added bonus: Exercise increases the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps the brain grow new neural connections.
How much exercise should you target? 30-45 minutes of brisk walking, running, elliptical cross trainer, etc, 3-4 times per week. If you don’t have access to a gym, find a hill or several flights of stairs to use for at least 30 minutes.
10 Minutes of Quiet Time Makes a Difference
Give yourself a minimum 10 minutes of quiet time each day. Make good use of this time though a simple deep breathing exercise:
- Inhale breath for 4 seconds
- Hold this breath for 4 seconds
- Exhale this breath for 7 seconds
This type of deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and bring your body back to homeostasis — a general feeling of relaxation and calmness.
Watch Your Alcohol Use
Alcohol is a good news/bad news story when it comes to brain health and heart health. A moderate amount of alcohol, consumed regularly, is associated with a lower risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
Excessive drinking, however, brings the promise of blackouts, long term memory loss, liver disease, higher risk of cancer, and early mortality.
So what is a moderate amount of alcohol? One drink per day for women, and 1.5 drinks per day for men. (And no “catching up” on the weekend!)
Routine, moderate amounts of alcohol raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol), and higher HDL levels are associated with greater protection against heart disease. There is also a strong correlation between good cardiovascular health and good brain health.
Get Your Sleep On
In addition to feeling rested and refreshed, good sleep helps with two very important cognitive processes that require full sleep cycles to complete:
Good sleep is necessary for new memory consolidation. New memories formed during waking hours are very fragile. Memory consolidation occurs through the sleep cycle, especially during REM sleep.
Good sleep clears away toxic metabolic debris from the brain. Amyloid beta (one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease) and other byproducts are cleared efficiently from the brain during Stage 3 & 4 sleep.
Follow these 5 habits for better sleep, and you’ll be on your way restful holiday slumber.
Happy Holidays to our readers, and best wishes for a peaceful and positive start to the New Year.