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Stresses Of Christmas

No other time of the year has as profound an impact on stress levels as the lead up to Christmas.

The simultaneous indulgence of sugar, impulse buys and family feuds can give "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas," a whole new meaning.

But do you know the effects the stress of Christmas can have on your health?

Stress factors

We all face very similar emotional and physical stresses on the lead up to Christmas:

- Financial stress

- Pressure of getting the right presents

- Making time to see family

- Decorating the house

- Making the perfect Christmas dinner

The list just goes on but all of these factors rolled up into a 4 week period has drastic, long-term effects on your health which is why it’s important to focus in your mental and physical health over the holidays.

But there might be some biological reasoning behind our seemingly hectic behaviours around this time of year.

Many experts say our feelings, thoughts and actions during the holiday season are driven by hormonal changes that might be more extreme than at any other time of the year!

"Certainly, it brings out the best and worst of us in every which way," said Dr. Robert Lustig, a world leading neuroendocrinologist and professor of peadiatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. (Incidentally, and to our complete surprise, Robert joined one our webinars recently. Just click here for more.

‘Stress might be one of the biggest holiday "S" words, besides "Santa," of course. While the stress factor is different for each person, the biological basis is the same. The stress hormone cortisol works overtime during the holidays’ Lustig said.

Cortisol will increase sugar production in the liver to power the muscles, and will also increase blood pressure and heart rate (The so-called “flight or fight” response). But stress energy can also turn into visceral fat, which is stored around the waistline. Previous studies suggest that, in general, many people do not gain more pounds during the holidays compared to other times of the year but the body's composition and even how we perceive our bodies are likely to change.

Stress can also suppress the immune system and make us more susceptible to colds and flu, and with COVID-19 still looming over us we need our immune systems as strong as they can be. The mixture of stress, temptation and the near-freezing temperatures can get us reaching for comfort food which only hurts our health.

‘Burning the carbohydrates found in the dense, high-energy holiday food can generate body heat and raise insulin levels’ Lustig said.

It's great to warm up, but too much insulin can lead to low levels of sugar and can cause the body to crash. Chronically high levels of insulin can lead to diabetes. The real reason we may reach for that delicious cookie or wrapped package is to ultimately experience that warm and fuzzy feeling of contentment.