How holiday stress can affect your mind and body

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Mental Health | Friday, December 23, 2016 - 08:30 AM

holiday-stress-affects-your-body-and-mindThe holidays can be a stressful time of the year, taking a serious toll on your mind and body. Holiday season is a time of great expenditures, busy schedules, and hectic running around. No wonder by the time all festivities are over, you feel worn down, exhausted, and maybe even ill.

Stress alone isn’t that harmful. It is rather our reaction to stress that leads to health complications. There are three different ways to handle stress: the alarm stage, the resistance stage, and stress exhaustion.

In the alarm stage, heart rate, blood pressure, and energy needs increase while the immune system temporarily weakens. In the resistance stage, the body starts adjusting and breaking down the stress hormones. It takes some time, which is why we tend to feel stressed even when the stressor is no longer present. Lastly, in stress exhaustion, the stressor remains and energy levels fall below normal. At this stage, the body can no longer effectively deal with stress, and this is when there is a higher risk of migraines, weight gain, heart disease, and immune disorders.

Even if you think you are fine, you can still be quite stressed. You may be under stress if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Decreased satisfaction with tasks
  • Persistent feeling of urgency
  • Clammy and sweaty hands
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Tension headaches, backaches, stomachaches, or other physical discomforts

The following strategies have been developed at the University of New Mexico in order to combat stress, especially during the holidays. Here’s what you can do to avoid succumbing to stress exhaustion:

Take care of yourself. Eating healthy foods and getting plenty of rest will help you maintain your body’s resistance to the physical symptoms of stress.

Manage your time. Take charge of your day by scheduling your time and focusing on your goals. Create a list of tasks to accomplish. Be sure to cross items off your list as they are completed.

Identify the messages you give yourself. Focus on what you can do rather than your limitations. Be positive.

Try deep muscle relaxation. Start by tensing your shoulders for about 10 seconds. Slowly release the tension and you will begin to feel your muscles relax. Try this exercise for all major muscle areas from your shoulders to your feet.

Make time for fun. Take a break from your normal routine during the day to ease tension. Physical exercise or just a change of scenery, such as an evening at the movies, can help you relax.

Gift-giving that comes hand in hand with the holidays is a major source of stress for many people. Here are some tips to make your gift-giving experience more fun and less stressful:

  • Make a list of everyone you need to buy a gift for.
  • Look for gifts you can give to multiple people or shop at stores where you can buy gifts for many people on your list.
  • Plan a few backup gifts or generic gifts.
  • Focus on the point of gift-giving.
  • Don’t enjoy shopping? Plan a single-day shopping trip if possible or try online shopping.
  • Ask people what they want instead of scouring the earth to find the perfect gift.
  • Shop early, when there is more variety.

Of course, shopping for presents and hosting holiday parties comes with a price tag. Here’s how you can manage your holiday expenses:

  • Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Check your emotions at the store door.
  • Think of alternative ways to give gifts. Set up a gift exchange, or opt for homemade gifts and food items.
  • Choose inexpensive ways of entertaining and enjoying. An example of this is having a potluck party.
  • Look for extra ways to stash cash throughout the year.
  • Consolidate or eliminate gifts.
With the arrival of December, you are constantly aware that the clock is ticking, and the week before holidays may seem to be simply hectic. When you’re short of time, keep in mind the following:

  • Complete your gift shopping early.
  • Prioritize your invitations or party obligations.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate.
  • Buy prepared foods, instead of cooking everything.
  • Cook and freeze foods ahead of time
  • Avoid time crunches by making plans to visit some friends and family after the holidays.
  • Stop to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Feeling overwhelmed? These three approaches can help you manage your anticipation and expectations:

Be realistic: Everything will not be perfect.
Adjust your expectations: There will be challenges down the road.
Relish traditions: Focus on positive traditions and create new ones.

Feeling like you’re falling into the holiday blues or even wintertime depression? Here’s how you can successfully cope with your emotions going downhill:

  • Try something new! Take a REAL vacation.
  • Spend time with people who care about you.
  • Volunteer your time to help others. Spending time with those in need can help you feel less isolated.
  • If you are religious, take time to reflect on the spiritual significance of the holidays.
  • Try to appreciate the good things you have now instead of focusing on the past.
  • Stay active. Get out. Go for a walk. Window shop.
  • Get help if you need it. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help any time of the year.

By following these recommendations from the University of New Mexico, you can get a better handle on stress and enjoy the holidays.


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Related Reading:

Having a stressed-out partner leads to a larger waistline

Job stress and lack of control take years off life

Sources:

http://news.unm.edu/news/the-effects-of-holiday-stress-on-your-body-and-mind

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