Happy (Hormonal) Holidays Everyone!

Feeling seasonally stressed? Trigger these feel-good chemicals to get your fizz back.

It’s not easy to get your tinsel ON when you’re working hard to wrap up the year (see what we did there?). Pressurised to finish projects and have fun with colleagues and family alike, it’s little wonder if your jingle is starting to get a bit…jangly.

Burnt out by work, I can become a nightmare before Christmas – scouring the late-night shops for THE PERFECT trifle sponge, or obsessing over the droop in our home-made paper chains (‘Step away from the tape measure, Dad!’) Unfortunately my stress is catching:  My teenage daughter’s ‘most-played’ song of last December? ‘All I want for Christmas is New Year’s Eve’ by a band called…Hurts. (It’s a banger by the way).

This year I’ve decided to swap mulled wine for ‘happy hormones’, and try some (brain) chemistry experiments to help me chill out…and cheer up. If you want to bring the happy to your holiday, why not give them a go?


Novelty Exercise

Endorphins make you feel fab – they reduce stress and anxiety, while boosting  mood and self-esteem. Want to get some? Easy! Endorphins love exercise…but hate routine. The more we sweat the same tired circuit (same tired jog / swim / Zumba class) the more our body gets used to it, and the fewer endorphins we produce.


By year end, most of us are crawling into an exercise rut. The quickest way out is to shake things up! If you don’t already exercise, then doing anything sweaty will feel new…

The Experiment

Introduce a bit of novelty into whatever passes for exercise in your world…pump different parts, flex with new friends or stretch muscles you’d forgotten you had!

If you normally walk, walk somewhere new – or invite new people along. If pilates is starting to pall, how about some hot yoga? Never zumba’d? Start now. (If you don’t get a high from endorphins, you’ll get it from the class ending!)

My personal experiment? I’m not a natural sprinter (my body shape doesn’t cry ‘gazelle’). But this December, I’ve taken up jogging. You know those hearty runners that sprint past in Santa hats – so cheery and smug you have to cross the street to avoid them? Yep, that’s me (only slower).

Have a good old blub

Cortisol builds up in the body when we’re feeling stressed. The first survival technique we learn as babies is to cry – cortisol is literally washed away with our tears. Emotional (as opposed to reflex tears) also produce adrenaline and endorphins. What’s not to like?


Having an occasional weep performs a stress ‘de-tox’ for the body, leaving us feeling happier – and refreshed.


Find the space to shed a few tears and see how you feel! If you can’t cry on command (at least not without a litre of gin inside you) find something that tends to ‘set you off’! For me, it’s certain movies – It’s a Wonderful Life, Nativity…Armageddon. (‘Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met’…I’m gone!)

Just be warned – crying on a regular basis actually builds up cortisol. So keep ‘Titanic’ for every other Tuesday maybe…

Give yourself a (chocolate) medal

Our bodies reward us for successful behaviour. As any gambler – or gamer – will tell you, every time we achieve something, we’re treated to a hit of dopamine. Result? A surge of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation.

Conversely, the festive season can make us feel failures – we heap so much expectation on ourselves, how can we hope to hit every target? Or even acknowledge it when we do..?


We’re kicking ass and taking names – but not taking the time to celebrate it. Toasting our successes (no matter how small) will keep the dopamine hits coming.


Big up the small wins. Don’t wait for Christmas to celebrate – you need the joy NOW!

If you’ve bought Gran some festive bed socks, brag about it! If you’ve fired off a long-dreaded email, treat yourself: Crack open those gift chocs, or sneak another ten minutes of Celebrity Masterchef – whatever gets your dopamine flowing.

Me? I’m throwing myself ‘admin parties’: For every set of expenses I file, I eat a mince pie. Already I’ve covered myself in glory (and pastry crumbs) with high hopes of being solvent by Jan.

Hug yourself happy

Oxytocin generates those warm, fuzzy feelings you associate with pleasurable physical contact – cuddling, kissing and skin-to-skin touch. No wonder it’s called ‘the love drug’!

Now the pandemic has hit ‘pause’ on physical contact, we must kiss goodbye to bear-hugs at the office party (or was that always just me?) Loved-ones can seem out of reach, and it’s easy to feel low and alone.


This holiday, more than ever, we need the human touch. If hugs aren’t to hand, there are other ways to trigger our body’s oxytocin response.


Treat yourself to a massage. Alternatively invest in a sports massager – or get on to Youtube, and learn how to perform a DIY (and detoxifying) face massage.

Me? I asked my wife to go at me with a wooden roller, and subsequently experienced the ‘warm, fuzzy feelings’ you get from mild concussion. So I shall stick to the ancient Chinese art of qigong – and try to rub a smile back on to my face (see grimace below!)

Pick a Festive F*ckit

Serotonin aids sleep, stabilises mood and produces a sense of well-being and contentment. But there’s a catch: Our levels of serotonin rise or fall as we go up or down in status, making  Christmas a competitive rollercoaster ride. (Yessss, my Xmas jumper got praised by the boss! Noooo, Janet’s illuminated reindoor is TRAMPLING my loo-roll snowman).


Our brains tend to focus on the bad stuff (nature’s way of keeping us in line!) But if we make peace with what we can’t control, we can relax – and start to enjoy what we have.


Stop beating yourself up over every small ‘slip’ – the card that missed the post; the turkey that got away. Channel the (ultimate) festive movie Frozen, and LET IT GOOOOOO!

Granted, if you’re anything like me, picking a festive f*ckit can feel like shooting fish in a barrel. But here goes: I promised my accountant some final details for my tax return, yet they’re still languishing in the recesses of my frazzled brain. I feel terrible, but I can’t go back in time and make things better. What I can do is let myself off the hook – just this once.

We’ve worked hard all year, people. We’ll work every bit as hard in the year to come. For this brief, bright spot of holiday, let’s all kick back and say ‘F*CKIT!’


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