Beating Holiday Stress
It is possible to survive the holiday frenzy without feeling frantic -- if you know how. Here are top tips from some of the nation's leading stress experts.
Stress Master: Nutritional
biochemist Judith Wurtman, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, and author of the book Managing Your Mind & Mood Through
Strategy:Eat to stave off tension as
well as hunger.
Tip 1. Carbo-charge your body. It's 4 p.m. on Dec. 23, and you're
stuck in an interminable line at the post office. It's time for a snack, but
not just any snack. Wurtman says the secret is choosing carbohydrates with low
or no fat -- maybe a handful of pretzels or, if you crave something sweet, a
few Tootsie Rolls or jellybeans. "At least 30 grams' worth -- look at
package labels to get amounts,'' Wurtman advises. Her research over several
years shows such carbohydrates boost the powerful brain chemical serotonin,
which helps the body feel calmer. Curiously, one snack to avoid at such times
is fruit: fructose is the only carbohydrate that appears not to stimulate
Tip 2. Eat mini-meals. When you eat stress-reducing foods, the
effects last only about two to three hours. If you're up against chronic
holiday stress, try eating several small meals or snacks throughout the day
instead of a couple of big ones. Just be careful to keep your total intake of
calories about the same.
Tip 3. Zero in on stress points and fix them. The holidays often
generate a vicious cycle: Stress causes people to eat
more and richer foods, which causes them to gain weight, which makes them
feel even more stressed. "It's better to prevent or deflect the stress than
deal with it,'' says Wurtman. For example, say you're a working mom who comes
home at 6 p.m. to begin your second job, and you eat because you feel
overwhelmed. Instead, plan ahead. Give your family written instructions on what
to do to help you, and give yourself 10 guilt-free minutes of time-out to
Stress Master:Robert Sapolsky,
professor of biological sciences and neurology at Stanford University and
author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress,
Stress-Related Disease and Coping.