8 Proven Ways for Managing Inflammation and Stress During the Holidays

Aside from the start of the school year, I would argue that the holidays are the biggest time of year for stress and inflammation. It only makes sense, right? Budgeting, planning, finishing the year strong, school activities, shopping, setting goals for the new year, and then spending time with family that you may not get along with…. it’s a lot.

ways to manage inflammation and stress during the holidays

I used to think I loved the holidays. My husband would constantly talk about how much he loved the holidays. The kids talked about how amazing the holidays were. But each passing year I’d find I was not only more and more exhausted and irritated, but my health issues were mounting as well.

More blood sugar rollercoasters, more emotional ups and downs, worse allergy issues, worse skin issues, and severe exhaustion. All of this cycled back to being more irritable and depressed than ever.

I finally realized a lot of it was because I was the sole person doing literally all the work. I wanted my family to have an amazing holiday, but I never got to actually enjoy it.

The overwhelm of doing everything and worrying about everything and being so incessantly stressed would lead to stuffing myself with sugar and refined carbs (and lots of processed convenience foods) just to have the energy to keep going. This perfect storm was creating massive amounts of inflammation in my body.

a woman stressed and inflamed during the holidays

One year I finally snapped. It was too much. It was the year I was working on my master’s in nutrition, which also happened to be the same year my husband started a new job that had him gone 4-5 nights a week, every week, for months.

So after some long heart-to-heart discussions and laying down new expectations (also known as creating boundaries for myself which I’ve always sucked at), things are very different during the holidays in our home.

Not only did I commit to myself that fueling myself properly the whole year –especially during the holidays–would help with stress levels (among a thousand other things), I knew taking control in a different way would help tame the chaos as well.

The connection between stress and inflammation

Many people go into an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle not really understanding that even though nutrition and what you eat are extremely important in reducing inflammation in the body, but there are three other core pillars of health that also greatly affect inflammation.

One of those is stress. Stress kicks on our ‘cortisol switch’, which under normal circumstances would be an expected physiological reaction. But chronic stress levels create a situation in the body where there is reduced sensitivity to cortisol (similar to how insulin resistance begins). This creates a constant state of too much cortisol, and thereby, increased inflammation.

What’s crazy to think about is that the connection between excessive inflammation with chronic disease has been so well documented the last few decades that they’re sometimes referred to as ‘stress-related diseases: metabolic diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and even psychotic and neurodegenerative diseases.

When our bodies are this stressed, we don’t sleep well or make good dietary choices. When we don’t sleep well, our hunger hormone goes into overdrive, making it even more difficult to make smart food choices. Then our energy levels nosedive and we don’t feel like getting in any kind of movement. We’re exhausted. And still stressed out.

This loop is what I call the CORE 4. And they can work synergistically for you or against you.

the core 4 pillars of health that work together to reduce inflammation

Unfortunately, the holidays are prime time for them to work against you, creating a perfect storm of inflammation, if you don’t get a hold on managing your stress levels.

Here are the proven strategies I use now in managing inflammation and stress during the holidays that took it from feeling like an overwhelming nightmare to actually looking forward to and enjoying the end of the year (and the people I choose to spend it with.)

1. Use a planner and checklists for EVERYTHING

I’m a HUGE advocate for checklists. They seem simple and benign, but they have a lot of power in them. Especially during the holidays.

There’s so incredibly much going on at all times that there will always be 3 (or 15) things forgotten without listing them all down.

Not only do I make lists for my daily to-dos in my business, I make checklists for :

  • home stuff that needs to be done,
  • chore checklists for the kids,
  • a ‘honey-do’ list,
  • packing lists if we’re traveling,
  • gift budgeting lists,
  • lists for all activities and school functions to attend,
  • and lists for any kind of get-togethers we may be hosting or attending.

It sounds silly, but lists are a super simple way to feel a little more in control. You can see everything at a glance without having to try and keep up with it all in your head. (Oh yeah–and being able to see it this way also helps determine who you can delegate things to.) 😉

Checklists alone are the biggest thing that helps me keep my stress in check during the holidays.

Laura, @truewell.co

2. Plan a cheat day and be ok with the consequences

Most especially if you’ve been on a strict dietary framework, this may be an ok time to take a break or plan a ‘cheat day’, as some like to call it, and let loose.

Now I’m not saying everyone can do this to the extreme. For example, if you’re diabetic, please for the love of God, do NOT binge on sugar or carbs. Similarly, if you’re allergic or sensitive to anything, also don’t eat it.

However, I do believe in lifting restrictions so that the time spent with family and friends during the holidays is spent focusing on catching up and enjoying the company instead of worrying about what you’re eating.

people enjoying a holiday dinner

I don’t have celiac but I’m sensitive to certain grains. They don’t send me into an allergic reaction, but I know if I eat it I’ll have an annoying ‘eczema-like’ reaction on my face.

Even though I know it’s gonna happen, I’ll occasionally plan cheat times when I’m with family and be ok with the consequences because I’ve weighed the importance of being able to spend my time focusing on catching up with my friends and family vs spending my brain power worrying about what’s available that I can eat.

When I make that conscious decision, I also don’t feel guilty for having those regular crackers with my dip. I make my decision, know the repercussions, and simply enjoy myself.

3. Schedule in downtime or me-time

Scheduling regular downtime should be a non-negotiable in your calendar. But ESPECIALLY during the holidays. This time of year tends to bring up all sorts of unresolved issues amongst family and friends without fail.

But it’s also super busy and can be exhausting, and can induce sleep issues from every angle. All of these add up to increased inflammation.

Block out time on your calendar to just go do things for yourself. Even if it’s an uninterrupted movie alone or simply bath time.

woman relaxing to reduce stress and inflammation during the holidays

I personally tend to get stressed with a lot of noise. So get-togethers can be overwhelming for me after a while. (Heck, even restaurants can when they’re really loud or if there are screaming kids.)

{But to be perfectly frank we have a nine-year-old that talks from the time she wakes until the time she goes to bed, so if she’s home I have non-stop noise all day.}

When this happens, I have extra time where I will do some things alone or even take what I call “brain breaks” during the day. This is where my kids and husband know to leave me alone, and I go in the quietest room we have, lie down, and listen to ASMR with sound-canceling headphones on.

I can meditate, take a nap, or just reflect and journal. This blocked-out ‘me-time’ has helped tremendously in reining in the overwhelm.

4. Have meal backups for the crazy weeks ahead

Backup plans for meals is so dang important, and I always say that meal planning is one of the most overlooked form of stress management there is. Aside from regular meal plans, though, I have a few other backups I recommend.

These include freezer meals that have been prepped and frozen previously, super easy crockpot meals, simple 3-5 ingredient meals, or even breakfast for dinner.

I create (yet another) list of freezer meal inventory, and also list these other options and post it on our ‘command central dry-erase board. That way I don’t have to think about what the options are. I just go look and pick one.

5. Get in daily movement

Daily movement (what we call ‘oscillation‘ around here) is critical during this time of year. People start moving less and less the colder it gets outside. But we also have shifted into a new era of so many shopping options being online that the old days of 30,000 steps in a single day of holiday shopping just doesn’t happen anymore.

Daily oscillation, whether that’s total steps, flights of stairs climbed, walking, or a structured workout is so important for managing stress. I’d even argue that we should add some extra time to our daily movement during the holidays.

woman exercising to reduce inflammation and stress during the holidays

Movement and workouts have been shown to help us sleep better and manage stress better.

If you don’t have a regular plan for daily movement, get started! If you do, step it up a bit during the holidays–your body and emotional status will thank you!

Laura @truewell.co

6. Have sugar-free options for treats

This one is crazy important because when you’re this busy and overwhelmed, it’s SO easy to just grab the first thing you can find if you’re hungry.

Prep anti-inflammatory snacks and breakfasts that are sugar-free ahead of time so you’ve got no-brainer options to choose from. Especially since we’re out and about so much more during the holidays.

Blood sugar spikes and crashes are prime culprits for stress and emotional rollercoasters. Don’t fall into that trap during the holidays.

healthy holiday swap out planner

7. Use the TRUEWELL trifecta formula for meals

Making sure you have your macros balanced at each meal will ensure you’re full longer, you don’t overeat, and your blood sugar stays balanced. This means less chance of emotional ups and downs from food.

This is especially true before holiday parties, dinners, and get-togethers as well. If you’re not planning a ‘cheat time’, it can be really easy to just say ‘screw it’ and eat inflammatory junk just because it’s there and you’re tired of wondering what you can eat.

The TRUEWELL Trifecta includes:

  1. QUALITY PROTEIN about the size of your palm,
  2. 1-2 x that in FIBER (ie, vegetables and healthy carbs),
  3. and then HEALTHY FATS about the size of your thumb.

8. Use the Freestyle Meal Prep method for weeks when you can’t even think straight

Even with my new rules and strategies in place, we still have weeks that are completely nuts. This is when I rely on freestyle meal prep.

All this means is that instead of having a formal meal plan in place, I grab seasonal produce from the store and prep it at the start of the week, and we use those prepped foods to throw together anti-inflammatory meals the nights we’re home and cooking.

See it in action and get a free printable guide by checking out the blog post (and watch the video while you’re there!): Anti-Inflammatory Freestyle Winter Meal Prep in About an Hour.

get a free winter meal prep guide

Wishing you the happiest, most stress-free, and anti-inflammatory holiday ever!

xo, Laura

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ways to manage inflammation and stress during the holidays
Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

Author: Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

Laura is a Nutrition Specialist and Certified Health Coach with a Master of Science in Nutrition. Her goal is to help women reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and regain natural energy with an Anti-Inflammatory Diet + Lifestyle.

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