The time of year is a whirlwind — part fun, part chaotic, but no matter what, it’s always chipping away at your immune system. So, how do you handle stress during the holidays? If you need a plan of attack, you’ve come to the right place. Like many of us, you likely spend a lot of time worrying about your to-do list, stressing over work deadlines and frantically planning family travel while still trying to have some fun, but you spend a lot less time preparing your body to handle all that stress like a champ.
While we can’t promise that your crazy aunt Susan won’t pull a fast one or your boss won’t drop a major project on you, we can arm you with a few tips for dealing with stress and defending your immune system right down to the very last meltdown.
- Keep Your Allies On Speed Dial
Working through your stressful situation may be as simple as talking about it with someone who cares. But if your friends are more inclined to hype you up than calm you down, consider turning to voice memos or a journal. A study published in “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” found that those who worked through a negative experience by talking or writing about it were more likely to have better mental and physical health. In another study, researchers exposed participants to stressors and then broke them into four groups. Some were instructed to not talk about it; some were instructed to talk out loud to themselves; and some were told to talk to someone else.
Among the latter, some spoke with someone who validated their feelings while the others spoke with someone who did not. When they were re-exposed to the stressor, those who either talked to themselves or talked to a supportive friend were found to be more resilient.
- Bring on the Mushrooms
Stress weakens the immune system, but superfood mushrooms can help support it. While all functional mushrooms — such as Reishi, Shiitake and Cordyceps — are storehouses of some of the world’s most impressive bioactive compounds and polysaccharides that can support healthy immune responses, some superfood mushrooms work on the immune system in more indirect ways. Turkey Tail, for example, has immunomodulating effects and is also rich in prebiotics and compounds that help support a healthy microbiome — which is tied to a person’s immune system. In another study, participants consumed Shiitake mushrooms daily for four weeks, and researchers found that it bolstered their immune system. Shiitakes are among seven immune-supporting mushrooms in the Om Mushroom Immune line, which is chock-full of beta-glucans that studies have shown increase immune defense. While these superfood mushrooms have mild, pleasant and delicious flavors that mix easily with drinks, broths and stews, we’ve condensed all their best qualities into easy-to-take capsules for all the holiday madness. If you’re feeling like sharing the mushroom love, no one will notice if you add Maitake, Reishi or Turkey Tail to your Thanksgiving gravy, or a bit of Chaga in your Christmas chocolate cake. Don’t worry — we won’t tell!
- Don’t Be Afraid to Put Yourself First
Even though the holiday season is a time to be selfless and giving, you can’t do that well if you don’t also act a smidge selfish. Of course, don’t go all Grinch and start stealing gifts or snubbing loved ones. Simply make time for self-care. You may find it to be a lifesaver. Exercise, for example. Who has the time right? Well, it doesn’t have to be a 60-minute HITT class seven days a week. In fact, research shows that moderate exercise for less than an hour might be all you need to help keep your immune system in tip-top shape.
- Practice Gratitude to Put Stress in Perspective
We know that we can’t eliminate stress from our lives. That would be too easy. All we can do is control our reaction to stress to help minimize the damage. A gratitude journal might sound cheesy, but several researchers have evaluated the effects of gratitude. It’s been shown to increase optimism and happiness and to result in more exercise and fewer doctor visits. Next time you find yourself in a stressful moment, focus on the silver lining. Say it out loud or write it down. For example:
- “Instead of being stressed that my boss is out of town, I’m grateful she trusts me enough to hold down the fort.”
- “Instead of being stressed that I’m hosting 30 people for dinner, I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend time with loved ones.”
- “Instead of being stressed that my kids are asking me for help on their homework after a long day at work, I’m grateful they’re sitting down to get it done instead of complaining.”
- Have a Solid Bedtime Routine
According to the National Sleep Foundation, our bodies produce more stress hormones when we don’t sleep well. The American Psychological Association reports that even slight sleep deprivation can affect your judgment and mood. It doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for holiday cheer.
So what can you do about it? Tighten up your nighttime routine. That means no tech before bed, and keep your room nice and dark. Exposure to light — blue light included — is thought to suppress melatonin and make it harder for you to get a good night’s sleep. Spend an hour winding down, meditating, reading and stretching. Heck, break out the bubbles, dim the lights and take a bath. Researchers at the University of Texas found that a warm bath an hour or two before bedtime can significantly improve sleep.
- Learn a Few Breathing Exercises
Take a page from yoga’s playbook and use breathing techniques to counteract stress. A study published in the journal “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience” concluded that slow breathing positively impacted emotional control and psychological well-being. And according to Healthwise,, it’s one of the best ways to decrease stress. So, feel stress levels spiking? Pause, slow down your inhales and exhales and feel the sweet, stress-free relief kick in.
Catherine Conelly is a former beauty and health editor turned freelance writer and digital marketer. She’s written for Shape, Thrillist, PopSugar and StyleCaster. Her work has also appeared on Forbes, Entrepreneur, the Glassdoor blog, and Adidas Game Plan A.