Doctor’s Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress

Dr. Brittany Falcone and Dr. Vito Giacalone

Make each day of your holiday season intentional, by considering opportunities to focus on your family’s health, and you will have a memorable, stress-free December. Enjoy moments - don’t let family or holiday expectations get in the way, overextend your time, energy or budget.

Stress is an emotion that can take on many forms: mental, physical, chemical and financial. When you encounter a stressful situation, your brain responds with a fight-or-flight reaction. That response is hard-wired in each of us and it is healthy and necessary. The problem, at times like December, comes when your system is activated too often, and you do not have enough time to recover.

Adrenaline and cortisol are the two hormones released when you encounter stress.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevating your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Prehistorically, this hormonal response was beneficial; if you were to encounter a bear or a lion, the adrenaline helped to prepare your body and muscles to respond. Though today’s stressors are not usually physical threats, like bears or lions, your body physiologically responds in the same way. While this response can be beneficial, if prolonged it can lead to negative health consequences, like high blood pressure.

Cortisol works to increases sugar in the blood, improves your brain's ability to use that energy, and inhibits certain bodily functions that are nonessential in a fight-or-flight situation. If you were to encounter a physical threat your body is not concentrating on digesting the dinner you’ve eaten or engaging your immune response. What does this mean for you if you’re under too much stress during the holidays? You may gain weight and probably catch that cold going around the office.

You can’t avoid stress, but you can work to minimize it. Here are a few strategic tips to keep you healthy this season:


Give yourself at least 20 minutes of elevated heart rate physical exercise every day. A brisk walk is fine and provides a great opportunity for you to include your children. If you don’t like cold weather, push-ups, squats, or planks will suffice. Implement one change today; disease does not happen overnight, nor does good health. Be consistent, you will see results.

Minimize sugar

Why is that we crave something sweet after a stressful encounter? Replace candy, cookies, and other sweets with citrus fruits or strawberries. If you are still craving something sweet, try substituting sugar in your coffee or baked goods with Stevia – a natural calorie free alternative. In the grocery store, look for the brand Truvia.

Set a budget

Set a holiday budget and stick to it. Include gifts, entertaining, travel, holiday apparel and everything else that you spend outside of your ordinary budget. If you do not have a budget, take the time to figure it out. Financial stress is a reality for most of us during and after the holidays. Apps like Mint or Personal Capital connect to your bank and credit card accounts, logging and sorting your expenses. You can set a budget of how much discretionary spending you allow yourself, and the app will warn you when you’re hitting your limit.


Contrary to popular belief, proper meditation is not necessarily sitting cross-legged on a serene cliff in silence, hands resting palm up in your lap with thumbs and forefingers lightly touching while repetitively humming, “ohm.” The purpose of meditation is to free your mind of all thoughts. It isn’t easy. Give yourself a few minutes each day to focus on abdominal breathing. Repetitive tasks like knitting, walking, or doing puzzles (anything that doesn’t require a lot of mental energy) will also keep you focused.

Take Care of Yourself

Imagine this scenario: it’s the week before Christmas. You’ve been standing in the kitchen for hours, baking cakes, cookies, meals, and washing dishes on hardwood or tile floors. This wreaks havoc on the feet, knees, pelvis, and spine. To keep your nervous system functioning and your joints in proper alignment, consider making a chiropractic appointment. People pay for things they want, not for the things they need.

Take care of yourself first and this will help you to be a good example for your children. Children are more prone to holiday stress when they sense it in the adults around them. Through these suggested strategies you can help your children stay healthy and happy. Focus on yourself and your family (in that order) and that will ensure the holidays remain the most wonderful time of the year.