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The Christmas season offers us a special reason to celebrate and to connect with our loved ones and friends. But, as we juggle holiday expectations—on top of our everyday demands—we’re likely to experience elevated levels of stress and be tempted to neglect self-care.

Stress is not always negative. Positive stress can give you the short-lived drive you need to finish a project or to tackle your holiday to-do list. But, if seasonal stress or pressure are pushed beyond useful limits, stress can negatively impact your physical health, your mental wellbeing, your mood, and even your behaviors. We’re even more likely to drift away from our normal self-care routines and to slip into behaviors that don’t support our optimum wellbeing.

Managing stress and taking care of your overall health are gifts that keep on giving. Here are three practical, self-care strategies to bring your health good tidings throughout the entire holiday season.

Reclaim your calm with belly breaths.

Stress takes your vital bodily functions for a ride. In addition to increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, stress can lead to short, shallow breathing. This creates a negative feedback loop as short, shallow breaths increase stress and overly activate your sympathetic nervous system—also referred to as your fight-or-flight response.

The upside? When things seem out of hand, you can personally dial back your stress response by simply redirecting your breath. Actively focusing and moving your breath can effectively activate your parasympathetic nervous system—better known as your rest-and-digest response. This rest-and-digest response lowers both your heart rate and blood pressure, while promoting healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. A simple self-care exercise like belly breathing can help you reclaim your calm and manage your stress more easily.

How to take a belly breath:

  • Sit or lie down comfortably.
  • Place your palms on your upper abdomen just beneath your rib cage.
  • Slowly inhale, and feel your abdomen expand in all directions.
  • Then, slowly exhale, and feel your abdomen relax and descend. (Easily remembered as “inhale, belly rises; exhale, belly falls”).
  • Savor this expansive, slow-moving breath for 3-5 minutes and observe the effect it’s made on both your mind and body.
  • Repeat, as needed, throughout the day and the Christmas season.

Self-care for your body.

Stock-up on healthy snacks.

Your body and your brain depend on good nutrition for optimum functioning. Stress can lead to comfort eating or to forgetting to eat altogether. Instead of reaching for sugary cookies and candies or missing a meal entirely, set yourself up for greater nutritional success by stocking up on nutritious snacks and treats.

Hydrate.

Water is the essential building block of your entire body. Because water is so vital to its every cell and system, even mild dehydration can lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and stress. You can fuel your total wellbeing by drinking enough water this holiday season. A water bottle is an important self-care tool. Always carry a bottle with you (stash one in your car or desk if you need to!) and gradually sip water throughout the day until your urine is consistently pale and clear.

Prioritize physical activity.

Physical activity is highly effective at helping us manage stress, while also promoting physical health and mental wellbeing. Exercise lowers tension, produces endorphins, promotes better sleep, reduces fatigue, and improves focus. But, when we’re stressed, we are prone to exercise less. As the season gets into full swing, keep moving by keeping it simple—go for a brisk walk, dance to your favorite holiday music, or take a fitness or yoga class.

Keep your smile happy.

The Christmas season can be tough on your teeth presenting more opportunities to eat sugary treats. It can also throw off your daily routine or leave you feeling too tired to brush your teeth before going to sleep.

Each time you skip your tried and true oral healthcare practices, you give the bacteria in your mouth an ideal environment to feed on the sugars and starches left behind from food and drinks. (In other words, you throw those oral bacteria a huge party!) Bacterial activity then produces an acid byproduct that eats away at your tooth enamel, increasing your risk for cavities and gum disease.

Your smile is an asset to your overall health and to your self-esteem. In a matter of minutes, you can take easy, effective actions to keep your smile healthy, radiant, and happy throughout the holidays. In addition to doing your best to maintain your normal brushing and flossing routine, here’s how you can keep your smile happy and healthy:

Rinse after you eat.

Though no substitute for brushing or flossing, rinsing your mouth with water after eating or drinking can help wash away sugar, acid, and leftover food debris.

Go travel-sized.

If holiday demands leave you likely to dash out the door without brushing your teeth, come to your own rescue by preemptively stashing a travel-sized dental kit (with mini-toothbrush, mini-toothpaste, and floss) in your car, office, purse, or briefcase.

Brush and floss right after eating.

Staying up late is often essential with holiday prep, travel, and hosting. To ensure that a late night doesn’t interrupt your nightly oral health routine, take a five-minute break immediately after you eat to brush and floss your teeth.

For a healthy and happy holiday season, give yourself the ultimate gift of self-care practices that support your body, mind, and spirit. And, from all of us at Millennium Dental to you and yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!