The holidays are a magical time! You get to take time off work to enjoy the company of your loved ones, eat nourishing, and express your gratitude for the beautiful gifts you receive. But as picturesque as that sounds, this is not the full holiday story.
Surrounding such precious moments is the stress of buying gifts and organizing meals, unhealthy food choices, a disregard of your exercise routines, and the emotional roller coaster of dealing with various demands. Potential toxins surround every aspect of the holidays, and the break from our routine makes us more susceptible to unhealthy and toxic decisions.
Fortunately, you can take some easy steps to minimize your exposure to the physical, mental, and spiritual toxins in the holiday mayhem. These will work as tools to recognize and prevent toxins from building up in your body.
Major Toxins Of The Holiday Season
Here are 7 major holiday toxins and some tips to help you navigate through them:
1. Unhealthy Food
Cookies and pies and cakes—oh my! Holidays are filled with tantalizing sweet treats laden with toxic sugar. Although it’s hard to stop at just one cookie or piece of fudge, overdosing on sugar is the last thing you want to do.
Sugar intake can make you feel more stressed. When you eat sugar, your blood sugar spikes and then falls; your body releases the stress hormone cortisol to help rebalance your levels.1 You can thank cortisol for all the stressful, irritating, anxious feelings after a sugar binge.
Instead of overburdening your body with a sugar-laden cookie (or three!), eat a piece of fruit, a handful of berries, or a small square of dark chocolate. These contain small amounts of natural sugars that will satisfy your sweet tooth without resorting to processed white sugar.
2. Emotional Roller Coasters
Nothing can make your emotions go haywire like a gathering of extended family. From the joyous peaks of reuniting with family from afar to the anger from a long-standing family argument resurfacing, you’re likely to bounce across a spectrum of emotions.
When you feel such negative emotions, it’s important not to keep them bottled up. A build-up of negative emotions can be just as toxic as fried foods or sugar. I’m not saying that you should start yelling at others.
Set aside 10 minutes at the end of the day for an “emotion date.” In that time, express your emotions however you see fit—allow yourself to cry, journal your emotions, go for a walk, or talk to a close friend or partner. Expressing your emotions is an essential part of the healing process. By letting them flow out of your body, you avoid a toxic build-up that may lead to health issues in the future.
3. Mental Stress
Whether from wading through people in a packed store, trying to plan a meal to accommodate everyone’s dietary needs, or racing through a crowded airport trying to catch your flight, you’re bound to feel stressed. These stressors pile up and wreak havoc on your health. Stress has been linked to increased rates of obesity and imbalanced blood sugar leading to type 2 diabetes.2 3 It also disrupts the delicate microbiome in our bodies, which could contribute to heath issues in the future.4
Combat stress as soon as it arises with an easy deep breathing exercise. When you feel stress bubbling up, find somewhere quiet to practice: Breathe in for five counts, hold your breath for five counts, and breathe out for five counts. As you exhale, imagine stress leaving your body and replace it with a calm, centered feeling on the inhalation.
4. Lack Of Movement
With travel, planning, shopping, and spending time with your family, it may feel like you do not have time for your exercise routine. However, moving your body regularly is essential to help your body cope with stress as it reduces anxious feelings.5
You don’t necessarily have to spend an hour at the gym or run for miles. Go for a walk in the park (if it’s not too cold!), do yoga for 15 minutes, or dance around the living room. Simply getting your heart pumping will help move toxic build-up from the body and reduce your stress.
5. Negative Thoughts
We have approximately 60,000–70,000 thoughts each day, and the majority of them are negative! The holidays can bog you down with negativity—maybe you feel inadequate compared to your high-achieving sister or you hear your mom’s critiques of your meal on repeat in your head. Such thoughts can flood your body with stress hormones, and repeated exposure to these hormones can lead to health issues in the future.
Fortunately, you can take these simple steps throughout the day to remove such thoughts from your mind. Start by monitoring your negative thoughts during the day. If you find yourself thinking “I am not capable enough to plan and prepare this whole meal,” replace it with a positive affirmation, like “I am strong and competent.” Each affirmation will help reduce your toxic build-up from negative thoughts.
6. Poor Sleep
Even though the holidays are a vacation, it’s likely that your “vacation” is also leaving you sleep deprived. Whether it’s a red-eye flight to your hometown or a 4 am wake-up call from your kids on Christmas morning, you may not be getting the shut-eye that you need to keep your body functioning optimally. Insufficient sleep can leave you ill-prepared to cope with the holiday stress.6 You may crave for another cookie or piece of pie to get that quick burst of energy from sugar.
While waking up early might be inevitable, you can improve your sleep quality. Set aside 10 minutes before bed to meditate and clear your mind. Allow the stress of the day to melt away and focus only on calming your mind and body. Wear earplugs and a sleep mask to create a calm sleep environment free of external distractions.
7. Lack Of Self-Love
During the holidays, you spend most of your time showing your love to other people with gifts and nourishing meals. However, you may be denying yourself an essential gift during this time—self-love. If you spend all your energy on others, care of your own self—and your health—will fall by the wayside.
Set aside some time to care for yourself this season. Go for a massage, buy fresh flowers to display in your home, or take a long, indulgent bath. You can also take 5 minutes at night to review what is good about you as an easy reminder that you are someone worth loving.
Don’t let the joy of the holiday season be overpowered by these avoidable toxins.
|↑1||Iranmanesh, Ali, Donna Lawson, Barbara Dunn, and Johannes D. Veldhuis. “Glucose ingestion selectively amplifies ACTH and cortisol secretory-burst mass and enhances their joint synchrony in healthy men.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 96, no. 9 (2011): 2882-2888.|
|↑2||Ishizaki, Masao, Hideaki Nakagawa, Yuko Morikawa, Ryumon Honda, Yuichi Yamada, and Norito Kawakami. “Influence of job strain on changes in body mass index and waist circumference—6-year longitudinal study.” Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health (2008): 288-296.|
|↑3||Nyberg, Solja T., Eleonor I. Fransson, Katriina Heikkilä, Kirsi Ahola, Lars Alfredsson, Jakob B. Bjorner, Marianne Borritz et al. “Job strain as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes: a pooled analysis of 124,808 men and women.” Diabetes Care 37, no. 8 (2014): 2268-2275.|
|↑4||Moloney, Rachel D., Lieve Desbonnet, Gerard Clarke, Timothy G. Dinan, and John F. Cryan. “The microbiome: stress, health and disease.” Mammalian genome 25, no. 1-2 (2014): 49-74.|
|↑5||Schlicht, Wolfgang. “Does physical exercise reduce anxious emotions? A meta-analysis.” Anxiety, Stress and Coping 6, no. 4 (1994): 275-288.|
|↑6||Âkerstedt, Torbjörn. “Psychosocial stress and impaired sleep.” Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health (2006): 493-501.|