Holiday stress is inevitable, but stress eating is not.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, which means our holiday to-do lists are long and our stress levels are high. Holiday stress can be an endless trigger for self-soothing, and with all the seasonal comfort foods on speed dial, it’s no wonder the holiday pounds pile on.
Eating in response to stress is just a habit many of us have formed. If you consider yourself to be a stress or emotional eater, your response can be retrained so that you actually cope with the stress instead of just covering it with food.
The best way to break this habit is by practicing techniques that release stress every time you feel overwhelmed. You can learn to manage your stress and emotions productively the more you practice.
The next time you find yourself seeking out that comforting chocolate bar or that soothing bottle of pop, work through this list one technique at a time until you feel your mood or stress subside.
- Breathe deeply. Focus on breathing for 3 to 5 minutes, making sure to inhale all the way down to your lower abdomen, where we tend to hold tension caused by stress.
- Play uplifting music. Music such as classical, jazz or percussion-based music has been shown to improve overall mood. Create a playlist you like that makes you feel good and tune in often.
- Take time for tea. Prepare a hot cup of tea and focus on the whole process, from heating the water and steeping the tea to enjoying the warmth of the cup in your hand. Peppermint is best for stress management, while ginger tea is best for soothing the gut.
- Stretch it out. A regular routine of stretching is an effective way to keep stress tension from building up in our necks, shoulders, backs and hips. If at home, sit on the floor and stretch while continuing to breathe deeply.
- Walk it out. If stretching is not a realistic way to relieve stress during your hectic day, take frequent 2-minute walking breaks. A 2-minute walk is sufficient time for blood to fully circulate, which can clear your mind and your perspective.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise helps you release and manage your day-to-day stress. People who exercise regularly tend to maintain lower stress levels overall and report more feelings of happiness.
Depending on the amount of stress you are experiencing, you may have to work through the whole list of techniques before you feel relief. It may take a month or more to retrain your habit, but you will find these techniques become your first response to stress or negative emotions instead of food.
Learning to manage your stress and emotions without turning to food will help you reach your health goals faster, boost your self confidence and leave you feeling in control even through the hectic holiday season.
Niki Kubiak is a sports-certified registered dietitian, competitive runner and owner of Niki Kubiak Sports Nutrition and Weight Loss.