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how to manage holiday stress and overwhelm

By PYM STORE

Why Am I Easily Overwhelmed? Managing Overwhelm During the Holidays

Life is hectic enough without the stress of the holiday season thrown on top of it. If you're feeling overwhelmed this holiday season, you're not alone. A 2023 survey found that eight in ten Americans say that the expectations and events around the holidays cause them to feel increased stress.

Lack of money for gifts, end-of-year pressure at work, and the additional responsibilities like shopping, cooking and travel planning on top of regular responsibilities, can all increase the amount of stress and overwhelm felt during the holidays.

The good news is, we've got 5 science-backed tips on how to stop feeling overwhelmed this holiday season! Read on to learn the science of what causes overwhelm, the consequences of emotional overwhelm, and how to deal with overwhelm for a much less stressful holiday season.

What's the difference between overwhelm, stress, and anxiety?

You might use these words interchangeably, but they do have subtle yet important differences.

Stress is a real event that is happening in the present moment, like a criticism from your boss or a lack of money to pay for your children's holiday gifts.

Physically, stress often shows up as muscle tension, especially in your shoulders, back and jaw. If you're constantly catching yourself with your shoulders scrunched up to your ears and your lower back is killing you, you might be inhabiting Stressville, population: everyone.

Unlike stress, anxiety is all about the dark, ominous cloud of what-ifs. You’re stressed about how expensive holiday travel is but you’re anxious about the possibility of your flight getting cancelled in a holiday snow storm. It’s worrying about the things you have no real control over. 

Anxiety looks like rumination, racing thoughts, heart pounding, or a bad stomach ache.

 

When stress or anxiety go unchecked for too long, it can turn into overwhelm. This can show up in two ways: Either you’re frantically moving from task to task (without actually finishing anything) or you’re frozen and totally unable to do anything. It’s also possible to swing between both versions of overwhelm.

Other signs you're overwhelmed are it becomes hard to think rationally, or to think at all. You might feel hopeless, and powerless. You might experience fatigue and brain fog.

What causes overwhelm?

Overwhelm is the result of stress gone unchecked for a prolonged period of time. Eventually you start to feel like things are out of control — like life’s happening to you and you’re not an active agent. You have too many emails, social events, or obligations, and the mountain of things feels impossible to tackle. Things just keep piling on top of each other until you reach a breaking point.

Because the holiday season often requires us to keep track of and pay attention to a greater number of responsibilities than usual, the brain’s prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive. Over time, a high level of demand can deplete our body of nutrients needed for neurotransmitter health. This decreases our resiliency, memory, and executive function.

Consequences of emotional overwhelm

By not doing anything about overwhelm, you put your physical and mental health at risk. It keeps you in the negative feedback loop of overwhelm, stress, and anxiety.

When you're overwhelmed, you're less likely to take basic care of yourself and give yourself what you need to thrive. You may miss making doctor's appointments, isolate yourself from friends and family, deprioritize sleep, and eat unhealthier foods. All of which will keep you in a state of overwhelm!

How to stop feeling overwhelmed

While you can't necessarily wave a magic wand and remove all the tasks and responsibilities causing overwhelm, there are some things you can do to make things more manageable and to make your body and mind more resilient to stress.

1. Ask for help

The American Psychological Association found that on average, more women than men report feeling stressed around the holidays. The same survey found that more women than men shoulder the responsibility of holiday shopping and planning, and report stress from the limited time available to get everything done.

Ladies, it's important to talk with your partner about how you're feeling and delegate some tasks to them. You might also work together to see what tasks can be removed all together or pushed to after the holidays.

2. Step away

It might feel like with everything on your plate, there's no possible way you could take a break. You might think it's better to just keep going and you can rest when it's all done. The truth is, your brain will work better once it has a reset. 

A study found that just 13 minutes of daily meditation enhanced attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. Other ways to take a break are to go for a walk outside without your phone, take a 20 minute power nap, eat a snack, or take a Mood Chew!

3. Supplement with GABA and L-Theanine

As we mentioned above, overwhelm can be caused by prolonged stress and the depletion of nutrients your brain needs to be resilient to stress and overwhelm. Supplementing with amino acids for neurotransmitter health can bring short-term relief to acute stress and overwhelm, as well as support your brain long-term to build resiliency to stress.

Mood Chews are formulated with GABA and L-Theanine, two amino acids that have been studied in research for their effects on stress and anxiousness. (Save 20% site-wide NOW with code PYM20!)

GABA (scientifically known as gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter that helps inhibit neuron activity. Put simply, GABA helps slow down some of the chaos that goes on in our mind when we're overwhelmed, and thus can help provide a calming effect on the brain. Increased GABA levels can help us feel less stressed, depressed, anxious, and even help us sleep better. 

L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea, that promotes healthy levels of GABA in the brain, as well as other calming neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. 

L-Theanine is also able to enhance alpha brain waves, which are the waves that are seen when we are completely relaxed, in both body and mind. This wave pattern, also known as wakeful relaxation, is also associated with an increase in the production of serotonin and is seen during meditation.

4. Write it out

Writing allows us to take an objective stance on our situation and thus, we are able to see it and our choices more clearly. The act of writing down our mental state can reduce worry and rumination, as it gets swirling thoughts out of our head and onto paper, allowing our brain to settle and observe.

A medical study found that emotion focused journaling resulted in better clinical outcomes (lower distress and anxiety symptoms) as well as increased resilience (ability to handle stressors) in just one month. 

5. Start with the smallest task first and set a time limit

When you accomplish one small task, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which improves your mood and gives you the motivation to continue accomplishing tasks.

Additionally, when you give yourself a time limit, it prevents you from spending too much time looking for flights or spending hours on Amazon for gift shopping, for example.

So to reduce overwhelm, set a timer for 20 minutes and focus on one task.