The holiday season is a favorite time of year for many people. But, this time of year may also mean high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Often our bodies are the first place to shows signs of stress. Research increasingly supports the importance of the link between healthy minds, healthy bodies, and stress.
The Mind/Body Link: Think for a minute about the number of physical and health problems which are caused, or made worse, by stress. We talk about them all the time, but sometimes we underestimate the link between stress and health. Common stress related health problems include:
• Stomach Problems
• Poor sleep
• Muscle Soreness
All of these health problems are caused or made worse by stress. Family physicians estimate that up to two-thirds of visits to the doctor are for stress related symptoms. High levels of hostility, a common symptom of stress, is a stronger predictor of heart disease than high cholesterol, smoking or obesity!
Your body has a stress response that is helpful in the short run. Our stress response gives us momentary increases in energy, focus, and readiness for action. However if we remain in a chronic state of stress, it begins to wear us down. It is as if we are on “high alert” longer than our stress response system can tolerate.
Causes of Holiday Stress: Psychologists and other researchers have learned more about how changing behavior patterns and changing your outlook can reduce the impact of stress on your body and your life. Trying to identify the cause of your stress is a good place to start. Several factors might be contributing to your stress level during the holiday season. These might include:
• Busier than normal schedule
• Increase depression as the days become shorter (seasonal depression)
• Stress from illness, like colds and flu
• Feeling more lonely than normal if this is your first holiday after a loss
• Financial stress
Ways to Cope: The holiday season is probably not the best time to do a complete overhaul your stress coping strategies. Rather, making sure you continue to use some tried and true coping strategies is likely your best bet. Thus, going on a new diet or starting a new exercise program may not be feasible when you are extra busy. But, try a few simple strategies like:
•Get some support from family and friends: Sometimes just telling someone about routine stress is a great place to start.
• Talk to your doctor, or mental health professional, about stress or depression: If you are worried that some health problem or emotional problem is tress related, talk to your doctor.
• Avoid new “bad’ habits: At a minimum, it is helpful to avoid making things worse by restarting an unhealthy habit, like smoking, overeating, or overuse of alcohol.
• Keep your expectations realistic: Whether it is your schedule, your mood, or your commitments, try to keep things balanced. Your holiday season probably won’t be stress free. Don’t put added pressure on yourself by thinking that you should never feel a little stressed out.