The holidays can be very stressful. Not only are we running around buying presents, making cookies and going to parties, but often the holidays means spending time with family members that we may have difficult relationships with or even dealing with the grief and loss of loved ones who are no longer with us.
All of that emotional stress can take a toll on our bodies – especially our digestive system.
Dr. Richard Bisceglie of the Center for Holistic Medicine says gastrointestinal issues affect 35 to 70 percent of all adults as some point in their lives, with women being more affected than men. And he says three common types of digestive issues – heartburn, stomach pain and diarrhea or constipation — are directly related to stress.
If you’ve been having any of these symptoms lately, here are a few self-care methods that can help you reduce your stress and help you feel better.
- Heartburn and Acid Reflux
Do you find that you overindulge at holiday parties, eating or drinking more than you’re used to? If so, that could be related to stress, Bisceglie says, adding that eating or drinking too much can lead to heartburn. “If you eat more or different foods, or increase your use of alcohol or tobacco, you can experience heartburn or acid reflux,” Biscgelie explains. “Stress or exhaustion can also increase the severity of heartburn pain.”
To avoid over-eating at a holiday party, example, try taking a few minutes to meditate beforehand to calm your nerves. Just sit down in a quiet room and set your timer for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and count your breaths, attempting to empty your mind of all thoughts. If your mind wanders, simply bring your thoughts back to your breath.
You can also try calling a friend and telling them how much you plan to eat before the event, and then calling them back afterwards to let them know how you did.
- Stomach Pain or Ulcers
If you’ve ever experienced “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re nervous, you know that your stomach responds to stress. “When you’re stressed, your brain becomes more alert to sensations in your stomach,” Bisceglie says. “Your stomach can react with ‘butterflies’ or even nausea or pain. You may vomit if the stress is severe enough. And, if the stress becomes chronic, you may develop ulcers or severe stomach pain even without ulcers.”
Schedule an Appointment with a Therapist
If you’re stress is due to anxiety about dealing with family members during the holidays, scheduling a time to talk with a therapist one-on-one is a great way of feeling more grounded. And if you are going through a lot of feelings of grief and sadness about a divorce, loss of a loved one, or strained family relationships, a therapist can also help you work through those feelings so you can be more present.
- Diarrhea or Constipation
Stress can affect digestion, and what nutrients your intestines absorb. It can also affect how fast food moves through your body, which may cause either diarrhea or constipation.
Learn to Say “No”
Often, stress is caused by taking on too much. What can you say no to this holiday season? Check in with yourself and ask yourself what tasks could you eliminate? If you are you are doing something simply out of obligation, you might consider nixing it altogether and instead focusing on just the tasks that bring you joy. The same goes for social engagements. If certain family engagements stress you out, maybe you can go for a shorter amount of time, or simply take a breather from them this year. Honor your own needs and wants.