The consensus has been that 2016 was not the year we all hoped it would be. With all of the losses, the disappointing results of the presidential election, and personal drama we all had to deal with, stress was a big part of this year. If it was just a little too much for you, as it was for many of us, we talked to Romie Mushtaq, M.D., a neurologist board certified in integrative medicine, about a better way to get a grip on stress during the holiday season and as we prepare for a new year.
“Even the most calm individuals, under the physical and emotional stress of the holidays, can start to feel anxious or full anxiety,” Mushtaq said, encouraging us to better deal with the stressors outside of us by starting within.
“Control the breathing,” Mushtaq said of trying to quell stress during a truly overwhelming moment. “Deep inhale and exhale. Once you do that, pivot to the fact that laughter is the best medicine. This is a great time to make a funny face or pull up one of those funny videos on social media. And if at all possible, try to walk away in that moment from the stressful situation. When you’re present in the situation that’s causing the stress, it will only further fuel the anxiety.”
As for holiday stress, Mushtaq noted that focusing on making sure you “rest, digest and be blessed” can help you enjoy this time of year instead of finding yourself of from it.
“With all of the activities that can come with the holiday like planning parties and buying gifts, it’s key to schedule time to rest, she said. “Whether that’s scheduling some time for quiet reflection or sleeping. Step two is to digest. We often don’t realize that under stress we can have occasional digestive upset as a part of that stress. So consuming foods that are easy on our digestive systems is important.”
As for the “be blessed” part, Mushtaq is simply putting emphasis on the importance of being thankful and watching the effect that has on stress levels.
“When we express gratitude, dopamine is released and it calms down the stress level,” she said.
Of course, one of the big stressors that doesn’t have anything to do with a certain time of the year is the strain from our work.
“A lot of people don’t recognize the symptoms of career burnout,” Mushtaq said. “Dealing with colleagues or loved ones and certainly the times of holiday stress can exacerbate underlying symptoms that we may already be having in our lives whether it’s due to our relationships or careers.”
Aside from the usual headaches and fatigue, Mushtaq said that we may not realize that consistence stress can even impact our digestive health.
“The feeling of gas and bloating, occasional diarrhea, people may not even realize that’s part of the negative effects of stress,” she said. “And when we have digestive upset, it can lead to worsening of mood. I often prescribe a daily probiotic to help balance digestive problems.” One of her favorites includes Culturelle’s digestive health daily probiotic formula, which helps to balance the bacteria in our intestines.
“When our digestive system is feeling well, it gives our minds a chance to rest as well,” she said. “You can really then have a solid foundation to start reflecting on those important things in life that may be causing stress.”
But one of the best tips Mushtaq had to offer was knowing the importance of finding ways to alleviate stress, including by keeping your primary care physician in the know. Stress could be making you sicker than you think.
“People don’t realize that a lot of the physical symptoms they’re having is due to stress,” she said. “Talk to your primary care doctor, keep a food journal and notice that under times of stress, what foods may be further upsetting your digestive issues?”
Whatever you do, don’t allow stress to remain an “ordinary” part of your existence. And don’t let it have the same impact in 2017 that it may have had on you throughout 2016.
Originally appeared on MadameNoire.com.
Words by Victoria Uwumarogie