No matter which holiday you celebrate this season, at least part of it revolves around food, family, presents, and social gatherings. These same traditions meant to cause joy, can impact some people in a negative way.
When you stress over the holidays, even for a short period of time, it can impact you health. The body’s reaction to stress is the biological “fight or flight” response; with it comes a release of several hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. An increase of adrenaline makes you heart rate and blood pressure rise, whereas excess cortisol increases blood sugar levels. Persistently high cortisol levels have been linked to higher levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol.
The funny thing about holiday stress is we know it is coming, but do little to prevent it. The season is rooted in traditions, most of which occur year after year. But few people plan out how they are going to deal with family, the crowds out shopping, financial concerns, fretting over appearance or weight, and end of the year responsibilities at work and home.
Holiday stress can also be a symptom of depression brought on by a lack of social support (or too many family gatherings), the colder/darker winter season, or long standing depression that tends to get worse because of all the added responsibilities and expectations of the holidays.
Even if you are aware of your actions year after year, that may not be enough to change your body’s response. Instead, you have to put some plans in place so that you don’t encounter the same situations. Or, at the very least you need a system to deal with the stress in a positive manner.
A simple tip is to be organized. If you are not a “list” person, temporarily adopt this habit. Make “to do” lists for shopping, around the house, and at work. Keep a calendar with you at all times to make sure you are not double booking social events or spreading yourself too thin. Luckily, these days with all the portable technology, it’s easier to keep notes, lists and calendars at our fingertips.
Lay off the high holiday expectations. You don’t need to get the best gift, attend the most parties or see every extended relative. Decide a couple of non-negotiable items for yourself and stick to them. That also means learning how to say “no” and sticking to your decision. You might initially feel some guilt, but in the long run you will feel better about the situation when you have time to slow down and appreciate the meaning of the season.
And speaking of slowing down, make it a point to relax. You don’t have to subject yourself to an eight-hour shopping marathon or hit three parties every weekend. Schedule in a massage, extra workout, yoga class or quiet time at home. Carving out some “selfish” time during the day, combined with deep breathing and slowing down the pace, can help lower those stress causing bad hormones.
While it’s the end of the year and easy to focus on what you didn’t accomplish or dwell on better years past, try to look ahead. You can’t change what has happened so make plans for the future. Setting new goals will help alleviate some seasonal depression and change your mood. A more positive outlook will help you deal better with anything that comes your way.
It may sound like obvious advice, but if you find yourself feeling angrier, more anxious, or really down in the dumps, go talk to a professional. Stress can manifest itself in many different ways. Before it gets the best of your physical and emotional health, find someone who can point out what you can change and how to deal with what you cannot.
Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com. Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.