Can You Train Your Brain to Tame Holiday-Related Anxiety?

Neuroscience Expert Offers Tips to Help Navigate Through Holiday Season Stress

By Dr. Patrick K. Porter, Ph.D.

During late-November and December, many of us congregate with friends and family in good cheer to enjoy time together, delicious meals and lots of gift exchanging.

However, the reality is that for many families–especially moms–it’s not all snowflakes, shiny lights and mistletoe. In fact, our stress levels tend to spike during the holiday season.

The holidays tend to bring incredibly grand expectations for blissful family reunions and social itineraries jam-packed with festive events.

Yet, to achieve all of this, it can require a lot of time and money to make it all a reality. As a result, many moms feel like they are simply not doing enough. And the expected feelings of holiday joy and cheer can become stifled due to increased levels of stress and anxiety.

According to a US Highbush Blueberry Council report, which studied stress levels and related behaviors during the holiday season, the average respondent admitted they find it difficult to slow down and actually enjoy the festive season.

The pressure to deliver a “perfect Christmas” to their family takes its toll on 41% of Americans, who confess to working “too hard” to achieve it, the report states. And the percentage jumps to 49% for moms, who put even more pressure on themselves at this time of year.

So, what do these statistics tell us? Holiday season stress and anxiety are real.

Health experts say that stress during the holiday season can impact both your physical and mental health–and much more than many people realize. For instance, it can alter the brain in various ways, from impairing short-term memory to increasing the likelihood of mental health disturbances.

‘Tis the Season to Reduce Stress Levels

The good news is that there are various physical and cognitive strategies you can use to deactivate your body’s stress response during the hectic holiday season.

The key to having a stress-free holiday season is all about creating and setting boundaries. Don’t be afraid to stick to a plan that allows you and your family to enjoy the fun aspects of the season without being too overwhelming.

To reduce last-minute, stressful surprises, try to talk about holiday plans with family members (especially those who live far away) as soon as possible. With this strategy, if you’re unable to join them on the holidays, you can plan an alternate time to visit.

Many moms end up over-committing and stretching their family calendars too thin, often leading to physical and emotional exhaustion during the holidays. This is especially true when so many well-intended moms become laser-focused on everyone else’s good cheer (and not themselves).

When it comes to taking care of your emotional well being during the holiday madness, prepare your brain for the uptick in activities. Because you know the stress is coming, you can shift your cognitive strategies to respond to the changes in your environment.

The first step is to be more mindful of your emotions. Actively observing your thoughts and feelings can help you understand where the stress is coming from so you can manage it more effectively. Mindfulness activities, like yoga, meditating, exercising and journaling, can help.

As difficult as it may seem during this time of year, it’s critical to make sleep a priority. Our bodies and brains repair themselves during our sleep cycles. When the quality (or quantity) of our sleep is poor, we miss out on the restoration process. As a result, we are less focused, less resilient, and we have fewer internal resources for managing holiday stress and anxiety.

The Bottom Line

There’s no denying that the holidays can be a very stressful time. From travel to family and finance-related stressors, the holidays you once loved as a child can become no fun at all.

But don’t let the stress of the season prevent you from enjoying yourself with family and friends. The key is to include yourself in the season of giving and carve out time for self-care–it can ultimately prevent burnout and make for a much happier and healthier holiday for the entire family.

About Dr. Patrick K. Porter, Ph.D.  

Dr. Patrick K. Porter, Ph.D., is an award-winning author and speaker who has devoted his career to neuroscience and brainwave entrainment. As the creator of BrainTap Technology™, Porter has emerged as a leader in the digital health and wellness field. BrainTap’s digital tools and mind development apps use Creative Visualization and Relaxation, a biohacking technique that has made tremendous advances in helping mental, physical, and emotional health issues. BrainTap has been praised for helping people relieve symptoms associated with stress. insomnia, pain, and much more.




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Can You Train Your Brain to Tame Holiday-Related Anxiety?