Stressed Out This Holiday Season?

By Kateri Kane PT, DPT

Stress can be a real killer during the holidays, both literally and figuratively.  It has been referred to as “the silent killer.”  Stress can lead to negative effects on your BODY, MOOD, and BEHAVIOR including: headache, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, stomach upset, sleep problems, anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, sadness or depression, overeating or undereating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use, and social withdrawal.  It can also contribute to problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Now, stress is something we face on a daily basis and is a NORMAL aspect of everyday life.  So why is it that some people always get incredibly stressed out over the holidays and others do not?  It’s not necessarily a matter of one person having more stressful circumstances than the other.  The key difference lies in how you manage your stress.

Your body naturally responds to stress with a “fight or flight” response.  This response is created by your autonomic nervous system which means that it is a completely automatic reaction.  Due to this response, heart rate and blood pressure increases, the pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible, the veins in the skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups, the blood-glucose level increases, muscles tense up, smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs, nonessential systems (like digestive and immune systems) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions, and the brain has trouble focusing on small tasks.  So what steps can you take to relieve stress and control this automatic reaction?  A few strategies include physical activity, relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi.  In an article by Dr. Martin V. Cohen, he describes a multitude of steps an individual can take in order to properly respond to a stressful situation.  These steps to controlling stress can be viewed here.

We will focus on one particular stress reliever that can be extremely effective: EXERCISE!  Exercise increases the production of endorphins which are the “good feeling” neurotransmitters in your body.  If you’ve ever heard of the “runner’s high,” endorphins are what produce this uplifting feeling after activity.  Increased activity can help to distract you from your current stressors and help you remain calm and clear after the activity has ended.  Overall, exercise can improve your mood by increasing self-confidence and decreasing symptoms of mild depression and anxiety.  By controlling anxiety, sleep patterns can be improved which ultimately recharges your system and increases your sense of well-being.

There is not one particular form of exercise that works exclusively for stress relief.  Any form of activity, from resistance training to yoga, can positively benefit your response to stress.  Yoga and Tai Chi incorporate a certain degree of meditation which can be particularly helpful, but the exercise benefits previously described can result from all different forms of exercise.  At minimum, however, a 30 minute daily walking or other exercise program is recommended for stress management.

We hope that this gives you the tools you need to help control your stress levels this holiday season.  Feel free to leave any comments or suggestions regarding stress management or any other topic in which you are interested.  Our next blog will discuss appropriate body mechanics for snow removal.  Thank you for reading and stay active.




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