Avoid The Stress This Holiday Season
Karla Robinson, MD
It is no secret that the holidays tend to bring a lot of joy, excitement, and fun this winter season. However in many cases, the holiday season can be a trigger for feelings of grief, stress, and anxiety, and can really prove to be a challenge to get through. For some, the thought of loved ones that you can no longer celebrate with, time constraints due to various family activities, or economic stressors as you are pressured to exchange gifts and provide for your family can really take the joy out of the holiday season.
Is stress really a problem?
It is estimated that 1/3 of people in this country live with chronically high stress levels. This can certainly have devastating physical and mental health consequences. Not only can chronic stress lead to increased anxiety, depression, and irritability, but it can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, body aches, and stomach upset. Stress can also lead to uncontrolled weight gain and obesity.
Stress has long been known to be linked to obesity and continues to be a big area of research. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology, a research team from the University Of Cincinnati College Of Medicine proved that everyday stress can result in measurable, sustained weight gain. When individuals are stressed, there is a natural tendency to overeat and it turns out there is a science behind this.
What are the consequences of stress and obesity?
Research has discovered evidence that certain hormones are a factor when under stress, and can contribute to obesity. Cortisol, a hormone that is released throughout the body when under chronic stress, is a known appetite stimulant and a major contributor to fat storage in the body. Serotonin, our “happy hormone” is increased by eating a meal high in carbohydrates. When under stress, our bodies may be craving certain foods in order to feel better and uplift the mood, hence the term “comfort food”.
Not only is obesity a major factor in hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol which are known to cause heart disease, it is also an independent factor for the increased risk of coronary heart disease. Additionally, stress is also an independent risk factor for heart disease.
What can we do?
While it is true that some measure of stress is often times beyond our control, we can all do a better job at reducing stress in our own lives. Here are some practical stress- reducing techniques that may help to restore the joy this holiday season. Don’t let the pressures of long lines, last minute shopping, family demands, cooking and cleaning cause you to miss the excitement that the holiday season can bring. Review these tips on how you can manage stress this time of year and beyond.
- Identify your stressors. How can you change or eliminate them if you don’t know what they are?
- Avoid the stressors you can, change your reaction to the one’s you can’t. There are some stressors that we simply can’t avoid, but try not getting as worked up about them next time. Try to see the positive spin in every situation….it’s not easy, and takes practice.
- Practice forgiveness. The holidays are often a time for family gatherings. Commit to ending the family grudges and setting the differences aside. Learn to forgive. Forgiveness is really for your benefit, not the other person.
- Avoid smoking, drinking, and drug use. Many turn to these vices as a means to cope when stressed. Not only do these behaviors further contribute to your risk of heart disease, they don’t even eliminate the stress. Avoid the urge to indulge.
- Exercise. Having a regular exercise routine is a great stress reliever. It will help you feel better, look better, and decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Aim for a goal of at least 45 minutes per day, at least 4-5 days per week after consulting with your physician.
- Laughter. There is nothing wrong with unwinding and having a good time. Laughter has been shown to reduce the levels of stress hormones in the blood. Laughter really is the best medicine.
- Be realistic when making plans. Take charge of your schedule. Don’t over commit. Know your limits, and learn to say “no”. Prioritize and do things in order of their importance.
- Stick to a budget. Financial pressures are often at the root of chronic stress, especially during the holiday season. Don’t overextend yourself as it will lead to feelings of guilt and create further stress.
- Make the time to do the things you enjoy. Whether it’s hanging out with family, keeping holiday traditions, or curling up with your favorite book, be sure to remember to make time for you.