The holiday season, although filled with joy and festivities, can also bring about stress and challenges, especially for individuals with chronic autoimmune conditions like arthritis or lupus. And for these individuals who are already at risk of experiencing negative side effects from stress and inflammation, the holidays can be especially difficult to navigate.
Does Stress Cause Inflammation?
The effects of stress on the body are wide-reaching and can impact many areas of your health. Most people will experience symptoms caused by stress at some point in their lives. Some of the more common symptoms of stress include:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Weight gain
- GI upset
- Muscle tension
- Lowered immune system
In addition to these symptoms, research suggests that chronic stress may cause more damage than we would think.
In a study on inflammation and stress-related diseases, research showed that inflammation caused by stress can lead to a host of chronic illnesses, including cancer, fatty liver disease, depression, and metabolic diseases. Chronic inflammation caused by stress can also worsen symptoms in those with certain autoimmune diseases, including arthritis, lupus, and MS.
Stress and Inflammation: How it Works
The sensation and symptoms of stress are caused by the release of hormones in the body. These stress hormones (primarily adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine) are intended to help protect you in dangerous situations by increasing blood flow and inducing the “fight-or-flight” response.
It’s believed that some of these stress hormones, especially cortisol, trigger the body’s inflammatory response. If a person is chronically stressed, they will continue to release stress hormones that trigger inflammation that may become chronic.
Ideally, the body would only release these hormones in situations that would require you to fight or flee. However, the body often reacts to events that don’t put the body in imminent physical danger. Work responsibilities, family relationships, speaking events, and holiday gatherings are all capable of triggering a stress response in many individuals.
How to Combat Stress and Inflammation this Holiday Season
Balancing the demands of the season while managing the intricacies of a chronic condition requires a thoughtful approach. Our team at Summit Rheumatology has pulled together 5 tips to help manage stress and inflammation this year.
Remember, everyone has different stress triggers, so the most important first step is to prepare for stressful situations in advance to best reduce the body’s stress response.
Prioritize Quality Sleep
Lack of sleep can exacerbate symptoms and contribute to increased stress levels. And unfortunately, it can be difficult to get a full night’s rest during the busy holiday season.
To ensure a good night’s sleep:
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule: Stick to a regular sleep routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even during the holidays.
- Create a Relaxing Bedtime Ritual: Engage in calming activities before bedtime, such as reading a book, practicing gentle stretching, or listening to soothing music.
- Design a Comfortable Sleep Environment: Keep the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool to create an optimal sleep environment.
- Limit Screen Time: Reduce exposure to electronic devices before bedtime, as the blue light emitted can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Quality sleep contributes significantly to overall well-being and helps rheumatology patients manage stress and inflammation during the holiday season. When we get restorative sleep and better quality zzzzz’s, we are more capable of responding to potentially stress-inducing situations.
Stress Managment Techniques
The holiday season can be overwhelming, with added responsibilities and social obligations. Implementing stress management techniques is crucial for individuals with autoimmune conditions to prevent flares and maintain a sense of control.
Some effective stress management techniques include:
- Deep Breathing and Relaxation Exercises: Incorporate deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation into your daily routine to alleviate stress and tension.
- Mindfulness Meditation: Practice mindfulness to stay present and reduce anxiety. Apps and online resources offer guided meditation sessions that can be easily integrated into a busy holiday schedule. There are many free resources available.
- Gentle Exercise: Engage in low-impact exercises such as yoga, walking, or swimming to promote relaxation and reduce stress. Consult with your healthcare professional to determine the most suitable exercise regimen for your specific condition.
These techniques not only help manage stress and inflammation during the holidays but also contribute to long-term well-being for those with autoimmune conditions.
Time Management and Prioritization
With holiday festivities and social gatherings, time management becomes a crucial skill. Planning and prioritizing activities can help individuals with autoimmune conditions manage their energy levels and reduce stress.
Here are some tips for effective time management:
- Plan Ahead: Create a schedule that includes both festive activities and necessary self-care routines. Prioritize essential tasks and allocate time for rest and relaxation. Designating a calendar to keep track of your plans is a way to help organize activities and outings.
- Delegate Responsibilities: Don’t hesitate to ask for help or delegate tasks to family and friends. Sharing responsibilities can alleviate the burden and reduce stress.
- Set Realistic Expectations: Understand your limitations and set realistic expectations for the holiday season. It’s okay to decline invitations or modify traditions to suit your health needs.
Healthy Eating Habits
Maintaining a balanced diet is crucial for managing autoimmune conditions, especially during a season filled with tempting treats and indulgent meals. Making mindful food choices can contribute to overall health and help prevent disease flares caused by inflammation.
Consider the following tips for healthy eating during the holidays:
- Moderation is Key: Enjoy festive treats in moderation to avoid excessive consumption of inflammatory foods. Opt for a balanced plate with a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
- Stay Hydrated: Adequate hydration is essential for joint health and overall well-being. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and limit the intake of sugary beverages and alcohol.
- Plan Ahead: If attending social events, consider bringing a dish that aligns with your dietary needs. This ensures there’s a healthy option available for you.
Setting Boundaries and Disease Management
The holiday season can bring added social and familial obligations, making it essential for individuals with autoimmune conditions to set boundaries to protect their well-being. Open communication with friends and family about your needs and limitations is crucial for a successful holiday season.
Consider the following strategies for setting boundaries:
- Communicate Effectively: Clearly communicate your needs and limitations to friends and family. Let them know how they can support you during the holiday season.
- Learn to Say No: It’s okay to decline invitations or modify plans based on your health needs. Prioritize activities that bring joy and minimize stress.
- Medication Management: Stick to your prescribed medication regimen and ensure you have an ample supply, especially if you’re traveling during the holidays. Communicate with your rheumatology provider if you have concerns or questions about your medication. Be sure to request refills before the holiday rush, as office hours may change during the peak holidays that fall on a weekday.
Managing stress and inflammation during the holidays is essential for individuals with arthritis and other autoimmune conditions. If you have any questions about how to best manage stress and inflammation this holiday season, reach out to a rheumatologist. Our team helps patients develop individualized plans to lower inflammation and increase quality of life.
Remember, self-care is a gift that keeps on giving, and prioritizing yourself during the holidays is a valuable investment in long-term health and resilience. If you’re looking for a rheumatologist to help you manage chronic inflammation from your autoimmune disease, give us a call at (480) 494-2770 or send us a message.