While holidays bring on joyous reflections of giving, delicious meals, celebrating, and family, they can also bring the anxiety of dwindling bank accounts, braving mall parking lots, and, let’s face it, family.

Naturopathic Physician and women’s health expert Dr. Aimée Shunney shares her best seasonal stress-crushing advice with Skinny Mom to make sure the only things burnt out at your house this holiday season are pine scented candles.

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What causes women to be especially susceptible to stress?

For better and worse, women are emotional creatures, and as such, very impacted by the stress in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Our innate empathy and drive to nurture is a wonderful thing, but it also seems to add to how depleted we often become. My best guess as to why is that we are wired to measure our success in terms of our relationships – partner, children, employees, boss – and are therefore extremely impacted by others’ happiness and satisfaction (or lack thereof).  We can’t be satisfied, happy, relaxed, having fun, (fill in the blank), until the people counting on us are doing so. This gets, well, stressful.

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What are some signs of stress to watch out for?

When was the last time you did something for yourself? Something just for YOU. Can’t remember? That would be your #1 sign. Watch yourself closely for when the things that you know you need to do for self-care start to fall away. Less exercise, skipping dates with friends, emails piling up, no time for meal preparation, forgetting to eat, snapping at the people you love the most (or the guy in the car in front of you), walking around holding your breath…. I take these from my own playbook, friends. Everyone’s different, though, so it pays to know your own red flags.

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What are some holiday-specific stress triggers, and how can women avoid them?

Extra family time, money concerns, and loneliness usually add to holiday stress. Again, the answer here is self-care. Put a plan in place ahead of time to make sure that the top three things you do to ensure your own sanity are preserved and even prioritized.

If you know you’re signing up for extra family time this season, take a deep breath. If possible, ensure that everyone has adequate accommodations and access to transportation. Make sure you’re not cleaning up after everyone and driving them all around, too! Money is tight for many of us and there is tremendous pressure to show your love with big expensive gifts. Start with a budget that won’t break your bank and remember that heartfelt letters, framed photos, planned outings, and specially selected music can be very meaningful. Remember that YOU get to teach your children what giving and receiving gifts is about in your family. Set realistic expectations and follow through. As for loneliness, the holidays are a notoriously tough time of year to be on your own. Make plan to be with people you love. Check out offerings for interaction in your community – what’s happening at the local temple or church, volunteer opportunities, concerts, etc. And if you do find yourself on your own, set an intention to enjoy it…or at least be in the full experience of it. Quiet time alone can be a wonderful thing.

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What mistakes do women make when they start feeling stress in their lives?

Again from own playbook, I think many women respond to stress by trying to DO something to fix it. Do more. I find that a much better solution is to slow down, stop trying so hard, and breathe. Often the act of relaxing around something and opening up to all possibilities makes previously unseen solutions and strategies suddenly available. Of course all of this can be easier said then done…. going back to self-care is always the right answer.

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What changes can women make to see a reduction in stress quickly?

Make time each day to breathe – 5 minutes alone in a room with the door closed. Or your car. Make a gratitude list each morning of things you’re grateful for. Eat regularly throughout the day with plenty of protein and good quality fat at each meal. Connect with people you love – people who nurture you – people who help you recognize the good in your life. Dare I say have sex more often? Yes I do! Studies show the chemicals released when we have good sex (or think about it) help us relax, reduce stress, elevate mood, and promote creativity.

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How can our diets contribute to stress levels?

When we don’t eat regularly or we eat poorly, it can be challenging to balance blood sugar. That makes it hard to maintain a stable mood, and that makes it next to impossible to manage stress. First things first, be sure not to skip meals, and ensure that each time you eat you have some protein and some good quality fat (nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil, avocados, fish). This will make it take longer for your body to break carbohydrates into sugar and provide you more sustainable energy. Also, make sure you don’t overdo it with sugar, refined carbs, caffeine, and alcohol, as these will similarly affect blood sugar, mood and the stress response. Too much of these can also exacerbate anxiety and irritability – not good when trying to manage holiday stress.

Good quality fat is also essential for mood. Studies show that the omega 3 essential fats found in fish, especially EPA, are beneficial for depression. Omega 3s have also been shown to help with anxiety and reduce cortisol levels (a hormone which can be elevated in times of acute stress). If you don’t eat fish regularly, consider a fish oil supplement to make sure you get those omega 3s. I recommend a baseline dose of 1200-1500mg EPA and DHA combined daily from a reputable company like Nordic Naturals.

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What’s one thing women can do every day to maximize fun and minimize stress this holiday season?

Laugh! Seriously….laughter is such good medicine. Make time for people who make you smile and laugh, read funny books, watch funny movies. Whatever it takes. There’s nothing better.