For many people the holidays mean a time of celebration, family, big meals and presents. Unfortunately it’s also a season of more stress and anxiety. While stress is a natural and sometimes vital part of our everyday lives, too much stress or handling stress poorly can lead to a number of physical, mental, social and environmental issues.
So let’s first talk about what stress really is. Stress is your body’s way of reacting to and dealing with situations. At times, stress can cause your body to react in ways that are vital to your survival. Say you are cut off on the highway or notice a family member in danger: Your body goes into its “fight or flight” response.
Adrenaline and Cortisol
More specifically, your body releases the hormone adrenaline. You instantly become more focused, your muscles tense, your blood pressure rises, and you get ready to respond. This helps you be as prepared as possible to react and overcome the obstacle.
However, if you are stressed for too long or too often you begin to have a buildup of the hormone cortisol. Unlike with adrenaline, elevated levels of cortisol have many negative effects on the body. It has been linked to weight gain, depression, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, lack of memory and lower immune function.
Some of the diseases and conditions linked to stress include cardiac disease, stroke, irritable bowel, immune deficiencies and chronic pain. It has been estimated that 75 percent or more of doctor visits are stress related; the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that stress costs more than $300 billion annually.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms are as varied as the effects of stress:
Cognitive, such as memory problems, poor judgment, difficulty concentrating and depression.
Behavioral, including changes in eating patterns, sleeping too much or too little, nervous habits and use of drugs or alcohol.
Emotional, such as agitation, irritability, moodiness and a sense of being overwhelmed.
Physical, including aches, nausea, chest pain and dizziness.
Steps to Take
Here are four ways to lower holiday stress:
- Avoid stressful situations when you can. If you do not like big crowds and traffic, maybe shopping on Black Friday is not the best idea for you.
- Adapt to the situation that is causing the stress. Can you organize your time better or develop a new plan to put you in a better situation to handle the stress?
- Assert yourself when necessary. Try not to bottle your emotions only to have them spill over eventually. Speak your mind but also see the need for comprise.
- Accept that certain situations are out of your control and you cannot change them.
So as the holidays unfold, remember the true meaning of the season. Spend time with your friends and loved ones, give thanks for the gifts in life, and try to get perspective on what is worth stressing over and what is not worth your time or frustration.
(And if you do decide to go shopping this Black Friday, be sure to read our Five Tips for Happy, Healthy Shopping!)