How to fight off stress this holiday season

Is there a better time of year than December?

The weather is cool... the food is delicious... and everyone is just a little bit nicer as we get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Entire wars have been paused just to honor the savior!

But while this is a time for peace, calm, reflection, and celebration, it can also be a time of stress.

Too much shopping... too much planning... and too much celebrating can all take a toll on your body.

A study published at Christmastime a few years back found at least six different ways that stress can have an impact on your gut and digestion, leading to everything from diarrhea to irritable bowel syndrome to ulcers.

One BIG reason for it? That study -- on humans -- found that stress damages the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut.

Now, a new study on mice confirms it by looking up close at the gut to show how stress causes changes equal to what you might see from poor diet.

These mice had been given a healthy diet and started out with a healthy balance in the microbiota of the gut. Just a little stress changed that, making it so that their gut microbiota looked at what was seen in mice fed nothing but junk.

This wasn't just the result of chronic stress, either.

These mice were given relatively mild stress for short periods.

That might be what you're feeling right now, especially if you're battling the stress and anxiety of, say, trying to plan one too many family gatherings. Some of those events can mean brokering a Christmas truce of your own between warring relatives!

You're no mouse, of course. But as I mentioned earlier, this report confirms what was seen in a more extensive human study.

So, if you're facing a little too much holiday stress yourself, it's time to bring a little calm back into your life.

First, turn to natural techniques like aromatherapy, herbal medicine (teas are great for this), and homeopathic treatments for relief. Prayer is also a great stress-buster any time of year, but especially right now, as we get ready to mark the birth of Christ.

And second, boost your gut bacteria so they can better withstand the assault of stress.

The earlier study on humans found two ways to just that: with a quality probiotic or with melatonin, as the so-called "sleep hormone" can help regulate the signals between the gut and the brain and protect against the stress-induced lesions that lead to ulcers and other damage.