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Feeling a little stressed this holiday season, or are you as relaxed as you can be? If it’s the latter, count yourself lucky – and in the minority.

According to a Healthline survey, most of us experience this as a stressful time of year. That includes 65% of GenXers, 62% of Boomers, and 61% of Millennials. The most common source of that stress? Almost half said finances.

Other common stressors include healthy eating/exercise, picking the “right” gift, and scheduling.

Now, stress itself isn’t a bad thing. As we’ve noted before, it’s a survival mechanism – a normal mind-body response to life’s challenges or threats.

The alarm is first sounded by a small area of your brain called the hypothalamus. This is followed by a flood of hormones, such as adrenaline, which increases your heart rate, and cortisol, which increases sugars in your blood. Your body prepares to fight or flee.

The trouble comes when there’s no relief from the stress. For one, chronic stress can lead to or aggravate conditions such as depression and anxiety. Even more critically, the elevated cortisol that comes with it fuels chronic inflammation. This is one factor that links gum disease with a host of systemic illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. Some have even suggested that inflammation may in fact link all diseases.

The link between gum disease and stress has been known since the 1950s.

It is now well-established that psychological stress can down-regulate the cellular immune response. Communication between the central nervous system and the immune system occurs through a complex network of bidirectional signals linking the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Stress disrupts the homeostasis of this network, which in turn, alters immune function.

Indeed, as one study of the matter put it,

It is very important to consider the inflammatory / immune response as a whole, rather than many different modules working separately. As disease appears to be the result of loss of regulation and a failure to return to homeostasis, it is important to achieve a more complete understanding of the molecular and cellular events in this complex system.

Another way chronic stress can affect your mouth is through increased clenching and grinding. As one paper states it, “The grinding of teeth has long been held as one physical manifestation of stress and anxiety.”

All of which leads us to a single burning question: What can you do to better manage the stress you may be feeling this holiday season?

The Money Issue
As mentioned, this is THE biggest holiday stressor. Whether it’s buying presents or new clothes for holiday events or traveling to visit family and friends, holiday expenditures are a real concern.

With a bit of planning, though, it can be made manageable. The holiday season is a predictable event, after all. It comes every year. While it may be too late to do much for this year, you can plan ahead for the next year. Set your budget and stick to it. Consider making your own gifts. Agree to budget limitations with those you regularly exchange gifts with.

You’ll find many more ideas for holiday budgeting here.

Maintaining Healthy Habits
Through the holiday season, we’re typically exposed to far more sugary and carby foods than usual. One way to confront this is to anticipate temptation and choose your opportunities to indulge. The holiday season isn’t a green light to nonstop eating, after all.

And when you’re in charge of making the food, you can always go with healthier – but no less delicious – options. Last week, we shared some baking ideas. For some terrific ideas on other healthier holiday cooking, this post can be a good starting point.

Along with healthy eating, exercise can also take a backseat during the holidays. Who has time, right?

But exercise needn’t come in big bursts. For instance, you can shorten your normal routine and then make up for “lost” time through small acts like parking further away from stores when you go shopping or taking the stairs. As the latest federal guidelines indicate, any movement is better than no movement at all.

And you have the added benefit of exercise being a known stress-reducer.

Just Say “No”
Good time management can go a long way toward reducing the stress of scheduling. Often, we’re spending more time shopping, baking, cleaning, organizing, and socializing than at any other time of year.

You don’t have to say “yes” to every invitation or every holiday event. Decide which matter most to you and make those a priority. Everything else can be optional, to do or not to do as fits with the rest of your work and family obligations.

And remember to take a little time for yourself, too, to rest, recharge, and renew. Even just 10 to 15 minutes a day can give you a lift. You could even try a little mindfulness meditation to relax.

For more tips on managing stress – at the holidays or anytime – check out this and this and this.

We hope this holiday season is a festive and joyful one for you – and that your 2019 starts happily and healthfully! We’ll see you back here in January!

Image via USAF