Gift yourself less stress during the holidays

Stress is a fact of life, but between Labor Day and January 2, it comes in buckets. On the personal front: school starts, followed by Halloween, Thanksgiving, Winter Holidays and New Year’s. Then there’s the task of “winterizing” your home. On the professional side, work that gathered dust over the summer becomes suddenly urgent and end-of-year projects loom large. Even worse, with all that needs to get done, there’s the risk of coming down with the annual cold or flu. No wonder it’s called “Holiday Madness.”

There are a couple of ways we can deal with this avalanche of stress. In a perfect world, we would do less, but that doesn’t seem a likely solution. On the other hand, we can view stress as a two-part problem—the busy lifestyle that produces exhaustion and anxiety and the unhealthy methods we adopt to deal with it, such as binge eating, or having one too many drinks. And since it may not be feasible to subtract from our to-do lists, we simply need to find better ways to approach stress.

The stress reaction

Chronic stress isn’t difficult to recognize: we feel overwhelmed and anxious; wired and exhausted at the same time, and our brain just doesn’t seem to function as well. Each additional task weighs on us, sometimes needlessly so, turning into the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. We just need some relief.

Stress triggers our fight or flight reflex, which in turn releases hormones, such as cortisol, that give us a boost in dangerous situations. Unfortunately, the same response that motivated us to avoid wild animals also comes up in heavy traffic, meetings and even our own thought patterns. But too much cortisol over time causes chronic inflammation, impaired immunity, cardiovascular risks, weight gain, depression and more — the last things we need in the middle of winter, or any time of year for that matter.


One very effective method proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression is regular meditation. This ancient practice provides a brief mental vacation that allows the brain and body to relax and reset. During meditation, we focus on breathing and calm the mind, which has the physiological effect of reducing cortisol and other stress hormones. The practice improves our wellbeing and increases cognitive function, supports a positive mental and emotional outlook and boosts physical health, even reducing inflammation and enhancing immunity. In the case of chronic stress, it provides the extra emotional stamina and inner calm needed to take on our many challenges.

The most important thing about meditation is doing it without judgment. We are not good at sitting quietly — it goes against our training. But keep at it. The twenty minutes a day we spend quieting the mind and connecting with our breath and our inner self can bring numerous transformative benefits, turning a frazzled schedule into a positive challenge that we can meet with a sense of calm and confidence.


When we get busy, we often give up things we need most. Unfortunately, exercise is often abandoned in favor of getting more done, especially when the days are shorter and the weather is so unfriendly. This creates numerous imbalances: metabolic, cardiovascular, immune, the list goes on. It’s also bad for our emotional health. Sometimes, after a harrowing day, the thing we need most is a rigorous work out or a long walk to clear the stress out. It’s also important to remember that cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, appear to be higher during the winter, perhaps due to the combination of unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits that creep up this time of year, along with all the extra stress.


A healthy diet can control stress by reducing cortisol and other stress hormones and boosting serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps calm the mind. Whole, gluten-free grains like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat, are particularly helpful, as they can support the brain’s ability to produce serotonin.

I also recommend foods that are rich in vitamin C, which has been found in studies to help lower stress hormones. Broccoli is a particular favorite. Green leafy vegetables are high in magnesium and other important minerals for a healthy nervous system. Omega-3 fatty acids, which have also been studied for their cortisol lowering effects, can be found in fish and raw nuts and seeds like walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and others.

Herbal stress-reduction

Sometimes we need a little more relief, but don’t want to take a drug. This is completely understandable—pharmaceuticals can make us feel foggy and not ourselves. However, there are a wide variety of herbs that have a natural, calming effect.

  • One of the most ancient stress reducers is Asian ginseng, which promotes calmness, enhances energy and can even help with memory.
  • Holy basil is often used in traditional Indian practice. This herb reduces stress and can also calm inflammation, while supporting immunity, healthy blood sugar balance and more.
  • Also used in traditional Indian medicine, ashwaganda supports stress reduction as well as memory and cognitive function.
  • Passionflower controls anxiety by modulating a neurotransmitter called GABA.
  • Schizandra reduces anxiety and also supports immunity.
  • A potent yet gentle sedative, lavender is useful to overcome insomnia as well as anxiety.
  • One of my top recommended botanicals is honokiol extracted from magnolia bark. Honokiol is a powerful antioxidant (a thousand times more potent than vitamin E) that modulates GABA to support healthy mood; reduces inflammation, protects the brain and helps fight cancer.

The most important thing to remember about stress is we have choices. If we do nothing, over time, stress can set us up for our most dangerous long term-health problems: heart disease, cancer, dementia and more. However, if we take a little extra time for ourselves and plan accordingly with the right support, we can control stress, keep ourselves healthy during the holidays and enjoy the season to the fullest – which is much better than simply crossing things off a list. Now that’s a reason to celebrate!

Dr. Isaac Eliaz

By Dr. Isaac Eliaz

Dr. Isaac Eliaz is a renowned integrative medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist, researcher, product formulator and frequent guest lecturer. He has been a pioneer in holistic medicine since the early 1980s, and has published numerous peer-reviewed research papers on several of his key integrative health formulas. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Clinic in California, an integrative health center specializing in cancer and chronic conditions. Dr. Eliaz is an expert in using highly strategic, synergistic protocols to address numerous areas of health including metastatic cancer, immunity, digestion, detoxification, diabetes, cardiovascular health and more. His approach integrates modern science with traditional healing wisdom for optimal health and wellness. To download any of Dr. Eliaz's comprehensive wellness guides, click here.