Holidays 2017

December 9, 2017 9:00 am

What stress can do to your brain during the holiday season

WATCH: Dr. Brynn Winegard tells us what happens to the brain during the hectic holiday season and tips to alleviate some of the stress.

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Everyone knows the holiday season can get very hectic but what many people don’t know is that the stress could affect your brain.

Your social calendar is out of control, your end-of-year work deadlines are fast approaching and you might be dealing with some family tension. Whatever it may be, the build-up of stress can put the brain into overdrive and consequently affect you physically and mentally.

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Dr. Brynn Winegard, professor and business-brain science expert says everyone reacts to stress differently — sometimes a little bit of stress is a good sense of motivation, but too much of it can cause the brain to release a hormone.

“The brain, we say, circulates something called cortisol, and that is one of the families of glucocorticoids, which are stress hormones. When you start circulating those stress hormones, you end up with some compromised abilities,” says Winegard, who teaches at the Schulich School of BusinessDeGroote School of Business, and the University of Guelph.

“So your brain isn’t processing things the way that it should be. And ultimately, it’s stressing your whole system. So not just your brain, but the whole body and your whole hormonal cycle,” she added.

This can disrupt your sleep, suppress your immune system and cause depression and anxiety, she said.

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“It’s this sort of downward spiral if you will. As you start getting stressed, and you stay stressed, you get more and more stressed and it’s very hard to climb out of.”

But there are things you can do this holiday season to mitigate the stress and anxiety.

Make the most of your mornings

According to research by Centrum, two-thirds of Canadians say that their morning routine has an impact on the rest of their day. And further research shows that you have the most willpower, energy and motivation for your day when you first wake up.

“We tend to over-estimate how much we can get done in a set period of time — morning routines help mitigate the negative effects of this common cognitive error,” explains Winegard.

While the holiday season can be overwhelming, planning your morning the night before allows you to start your day off right and have a clear mind to tackle your busy schedule. It can be as simple as taking your vitamin, getting some exercise in or making sure you have a balanced breakfast, Winegard added.

Take time for yourself

When you’re taking care of others it’s more important than ever to remember to do things that make you happy: whether that be exercise, meditation, or creative pursuits, Winegard said.

READ MORE: Why workplaces may be cutting back on their holiday parties this year

Whatever it may be, doing those little things can help keep stress levels low. Even if the holiday season gets busy, don’t sacrifice your own time because after a while it adds up, she said.

“Working with your natural tendencies instead of against them is the best way to create better habits and more productive days.”

Enjoy the present moment

We’re so busy trying to please everyone during the holidays that we often forget to enjoy them, Winegard says.

That’s why she says it’s essential to try to be aware even if the time is flying by. It can be stressful, but there’s a lot to enjoy as well. If you don’t stop for a moment to take it all in, then the beautiful moments might not be absorbed.

“Practicing mindfulness through cognitive deliberateness has been shown to help ease anxiety, decrease stress levels, improve efficacy, as well as increase productivity on the task at hand.”

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