The holiday season is usually pretty stressful. There’s visiting family, which either means packing up to travel or madly cleaning the house and stocking the fridge. There’s a list of gifts to buy which means guessing what people want and spending money. Then there’s decorations and parties and endless to do lists. It’s just one holiday after the other and my husband and I look forward to January.
Although the holiday season can be particularly stressful, stress is something that typically follows us no matter what time of year. There’s no denying or avoiding the awful truth: life is crazy, stressful, unpredictable, and unrelentingly fast paced. Stress is everywhere and seems to be the only true constant in today’s society. The morning rush. Waiting in traffic. Deadlines, bosses, and money (or rather, lack of). Errands to run. Chores to finish. Families to care for. Ugh, just thinking about it all is stressful.
The way our body reacts to stress, biologically, stems from the “fight or flight” response. It is meant to be an immediate and temporary reaction. For example, if threat such as a very hungry bear were to come across our path, our body would react accordingly: RUN! Two very small but extremely important glands are responsible for this reaction that has kept the human species alive. The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and is responsible for directing the secretion of certain hormones, in particular stress hormones. Cortisol is one of these hormones, a steroid that can have all kinds of crazy effects on the body. When stress is prolonged, the adrenal glands are exhausted and run down and cortisol continues to suppress the immune system and mess with the metabolism of fats and sugars.
All of this stress can take a toll on our mental, emotional, and even physical health. Mentally and emotionally, it can cause irritability, anger, frustration, fatigue, brain fog, etc. as an immediate reaction. Long term it can cause anxiety, depression, and can even be traumatizing. The physical symptoms of stress are headaches, stomachaches/upset stomach, fast breathing, sweating, fast heartbeat, and a stiff neck or back. But long term stress can completely wreak havoc on the body. Chronic stress is strongly linked to as well as can worsen symptoms of: heart disease, weakened immune system, stomach problems like ulcers or irritable bowel syndrome, reproductive issues such as erectile dysfunction and menstrual cramps, acne, asthma, and even arthritis. And that’s just a very short, very general list. Stress is not a state that the body prefers because generally speaking, stress’ll kill ya.
So how do we avoid all of this? In all honesty, most of us can’t. Work, families, and other responsibilities are here to stay. But we can do out very best to alleviate stress by making small changes in our lifestyle and reactions to it. Here are some things to try:
- Meditation: sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus on the moment. There are tons of ways to meditate, so as long as you focus on deep breathing and keeping your mind in one place, it’s up to you.
- Breathe: feeling stressed? Breath in deeply through your nose so that your diaphragm expands into your belly. Hold it for a few seconds, then breath out slowly.
- Go Outside! Go for a walk, step into the backyard, or even just open a window. Connecting to nature is soothing to the body and brain.
- Regroup and Recharge: Take time to yourself, even if it’s just a few minutes, throughout the day. For example, during the workday, take a few minutes to practice deep breathing at your desk.
- Hobbies: try out new things if you don’t already have a hobby that you love. When you find something that speaks to you, go with it! Any way to enjoy life is helping to alleviate stress.
- It’s the Little Joys: life is short, enjoy that glass of wine or square of chocolate. Splurge a little and buy that dress.
Stress sucks, but know that you’re not alone. We’re all stuck in the stressed out, fast paced world. Let’s just take it one day at a time, do what we can to destress, and hopefully, life will seem a little easier.