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Winter health and wellness: stress

December can be a stressful time of the year. Could the festive period be damaging your health?

During the winter months as the nights draw in and the weather gets colder, our health and mood can take a hit. From November to March, we are more susceptible to colds and flu; we can suffer from dry skin and hair, we experience more aches and pains, and our moods can darken just like the days.

Amidst the frenzy of Christmas shopping, organising parties and social gatherings as well as preparing for the biggest meal of the year, we thought it would be fitting to discuss the effect of stress on our health and offer our advice as to how to keep the stress levels to a minimum this holiday season.

What happens to the body during times of stress?

From time to time everyone experiences stress. For short-term situations, stress can be good for our health as it allows us to cope with potentially serious situations. During stressful times, the body releases hormones that increase our heart and breathing rates and prepare the muscles to respond to a threat. During the Christmas season stress levels can hit an all-time high and over a prolonged period, if the stress response doesn’t stop firing it can have a negative effect on our health.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands during times of stress. It plays an important role in many bodily processes including regulating blood sugar levels, metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation. Cortisol also suppresses functions that could be detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation, such as the immune and digestive systems and growth processes.

Prolonged stress can cause health problems including cardiovascular disease such as heart disease, depression, and sleep disturbances [1, 2, 3].


Take a moment to breathe

It is very easy to get caught up in the Christmas madness and feel overwhelmed when facing a never-ending to-do list. But during such a busy time of the year, it is important to think about the ways to lower our cortisol levels and keep ourselves healthy.

1. Take some time for yourself Don’t forget to take some time away from the Christmas madness and find time in your day for yourself and to do the things you love.

2. Sleep is important To keep yourself healthy it is important to get a good night’s rest. Sleep helps mental and physical health so make sure you are getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night.

3. Wrap up and enjoy the fresh air Exercise is an excellent way to clear your head and improve a low mood so wrap up warm and enjoy a long walk this winter.

4. Remember what it is all about When it feels like there aren't enough hours in the day, it is important to take the time to remember what Christmas is all about. Spending time with family and friends is an excellent way to release happy hormones dopamine and serotonin.

5. Don’t ignore your symptoms If you feel unwell during the festive season, it is important to take the necessary steps to keep yourself fit and healthy. OurMedichecks'Stress Cortisol Saliva Tests (6) arean ideal way to check whetheryour stress levels are affecting your health. The test assesses your cortisol levels at six points throughout the day, so canpinpoint the periods in your day which are contributing to your overwhelming feeling of stress,and therefore supportyou to makenecessary lifestyle adjustments.The process couldn’t be simpler as the test is delivered straight to your door.

You also havethe option of a Cortisol (Free) Urine Test, which measures the total amount of cortisol excreted into your urine over a 24-hour period, so can assess whether your cortisol levels are higher than they should be.