Expert Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

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It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's also one of the most stressful.

The good news: You're not alone. Dr. Pete Sulack, founder of StressRX.com, said as many as 70 percent of Americans are stressed around the holidays by "lack of money, time, or energy. Add the ramped-up expectations of the holidays, and that just adds another layer of stress."

The bad news: Stress takes a negative toll on your body. "Humans were made to alternate between periods of stress and rest," he said. "When that natural rhythm is disrupted -- when we stay in a state of chronic stress, our cells are bathed in cortisol, which damages our bodies on a cellular level."

This, he said, can lead to things like weight gain, a weakened immune system and elevated blood pressure. "Even those of us who are generally levelheaded can lose our center trying to keep up with all the activities, expectations and demands of the holiday season."

Here are Sulack's top tips for managing holiday stress:

Lay off the alcohol. "Alcohol adds to the overall stress of the body when ingested in large amounts or in lesser amounts too often," he said.

Cut back on caffeine. According to Sulack, "Caffeine is a favorite among the chronically stressed and the chronically tired, but it can instigate the stress response."

Watch what you eat. "Comfort foods also make you feel good at first, but become the motivation for many of our New Year’s resolutions," he said. "Sugar and simple carbohydrates light up the pleasure centers of the brain, but they also cause the body to be chronically dehydrated, and alter blood pressure, blood sugar and hormonal balances."

In general, Sulack said, remember to stay away from “SCAT.” That’s sugar, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.

Eat superfoods. Add nutrient-dense foods and eliminate as many toxins as you can, Sulack suggested. Superfoods include green, leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale, berries, nuts, oily fish like salmon, and healthy fats like coconut oil, grass-fed butter and pasture-raised eggs.

Keep good company. "Minimize those things in your life that deter you from health and happiness, including those who chronically bring you down because of their cynicism, low energy, or depressed state."

Get moving. "Commit to exercising," Sulack said, "even just a brisk walk, every day to keep your serotonin and energy levels high."