The holiday season is a time when we take on more than our usual daily tasks. It is a time when emotions can run high due to expectations for this to be the happiest holiday ever. It is a time when many eat more, drink more, and physically move less. We do more, worry more, eat more, drink more, and move less all with the intention to celebrate. However, these personal choices often lead to much anxiety and a holiday full of disapointment.
Recently within Big Rock Yoga I over heard a student state she was exhausted. When I asked why, her response was a combination of shopping, baking, decorating, and planning for her family event. The one action she is consistent with is her yoga practice. She stated she would be a basket case without it! Balance is a choice. We all need to understand stress and our ability to manage it to experience a holiday filled with joy.
What is Stress?
While stress generally refers to the psychological perception of pressure, stress includes anything we experience that has an impact on our physical body that stimulates the fight and flight response. Whether you perceive a stressful situation through worry, or actually live out a stressful situation, the body responds in the same way. Your body stimulates the autonomic nervous system’s response for survival. This produces an adrenaline rush of hormones and cortisol. As your fight and flight response increases, your rest and digestion functions slow down.
When you have ongoing major life stressors or ongoing perceived stress from your mind through worry, the body remains in the fight and flight state on a daily basis. This results in a long term slowing of the body’s recovery functions through the rest and digest responses. Symptoms of ongoing stress on the body include irritability, mental confusion, inability to make decisions, high blood pressure, changes in weight/appetite, changes in sleeping patterns, withdrawal from regular daily activities, and isolation.
While it may seem extreme for the holidays to trigger you into survival mode, the busyness, worry, and high expectations you have leave you in a similar physical and emotional state. The struggle is real, if it is perceived as real!
Awareness is a key factor in successful stress management. An awareness of what you already know to be true, and new insights about your personal stress levels, ultimately gives you two options. The first stress management option is to choose to control what you can control. Control leads to a feeling of success and lower stress levels simply by your taking positive action toward a change or goal you desire. The second stress management option is to accept what you cannot control. Acceptance is the ability to see a life situation both as it is, and as it is not. Recognizing a life situation that cannot be changed can ultimately lead to lower stress as you quit fighting what you cannot win.
Control What You Can Control
What you choose to do, or not do, to recover from the impacts of daily or long-term stress ultimately determines your overall health and happiness. Successful stress management requires you to address the following three questions:
1. What are your current stressors this holiday season? I suggest that you write these out. Take the time to be thorough. Just because an event or task gives you joy does not mean that it is stress free, especially if you are spending additional time on holiday responsibilities. Once you journal out your stressors examine whether the stress is real or perceived? Are you adding additional stress through fear and worry that the holiday will not be the way you want it to be?
2. What are your options to remove unnecessary stress? You may have a perception that the holidays should be the same each year, or that the holiday needs to meet an expectation of friends, family, or media. These expectations can often cause unnecessary stress. It is your choice to decide what you do and do not do this holiday. It is your choice to accept a level of holiday shopping, cooking, wrapping, parties, or isolation that is healthy for you and your loved ones. Release your beliefs on how the holiday "should be" and you will discover the choices that bring a deeper joy this season.
3. What are your options to relieve stress that is not removed? Consider the below options to relieve the stressors that you leave in your life this holiday:
*Sleep 7-8 hours a night.
*Eat healthy, balanced meals in between the holiday celebrations and snacking. The season is not an all or nothing nutritionally, unless you let it be.
*Take quiet time to mindfully move or meditate.
*Ask for help without belittling your spouse, children, or family on how little they doing to create your holiday. Friends and family are usually willing to step in when the person asking is in a good mood.
*Allow yourself to spend time with others, if you typically isolate. There are many options to connect with others through volunteering over the holidays, visiting friends that live alone, or accepting that invitation you usually say "no".
*Take the time to do what you usually do to relieve stress, such as movies, meals with friends, exercise, etc.