The Holidays are here and even though they may bring joy and happiness, they may also add stress to our lives. Since prevention is the best form of medicine, if we anticipate certain situations or problems, we can prevent or lessen the impact that they could have in our life. We talk all the time about stress and how it affects our lives, but let’s get a little technical and explore the impact of stress in our bodies.
Let’s imagine you are under a stressful situation. A part of your brain called the hypothalamus will produce the message to your body to send the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones activate your body’s “flight or fight” response. When this process is activated, your heart rate increases, your muscles are ready for action, your vision and hearing get sharper; your entire body is ready for an emergency.
But just imagine your body going through this process for an extended period and constantly secreting adrenaline and cortisol. This natural body reaction that is part of our survival mechanism should end when the stressor disappears, but it becomes very dangerous for our overall health when we are constantly under stress. The stress hormones in this situation will affect your entire body. They will send the message to the heart to pump more blood to your muscles and other organs and it will also affect your breathing and your digestive system. All this extra tension in your muscles and the constriction to blood vessels and arteries can cause headaches and pain in other parts of your body such as shoulders, neck or back. Also, the rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure can lead to a stroke or a heart attack.
When we have elevated stress levels for longer periods of time we can talk about “chronic stress.” The presentation or symptoms of chronic stress are the following:
· Muscular pain
· Gastric problems
During the holiday season, many people become stressed out. They are busy planning parties, making food, buying presents, and visiting family and friends. The entire month of December can become consumed with spending money, eating cookies and running around in crazy traffic.
We all know that the season of giving should not be about stressing out to the point of feeling overwhelmed. It should be about giving and about taking care and enjoying ourselves and our loved ones.
Now how do you take care of yourself and your loved ones? By eating healthy, reducing stress and exercising. Fitness is one of the best things we can do to keep our bodies functioning to the best of its capacity despite age.
Learning to manage stress is paramount. Since we are all different, we also have different ways to deal with stress. People also do different activities to relax and enjoy their free time. Planning and learning what helps us the most will also prevent us from self-medicating with pills, food or alcohol.
What are the most effective strategies to reduce stress?
· Exercise regularly, at least 3 times a week for one hour
· Eat healthy and nutritious foods
· Learn to breath
· Practice yoga
· Meditate daily
· Stretch your body
· Swim in the pool
· Get enough sleep
· Read a good book
· Listen to music
· Hang out friends and family
Life has its moments. It’s about how we approach them. Try always to be optimistic, positive and hopeful. Since this is the time of giving, give love and affection to those around you! Be compassionate, be kind!
The Healthy Living team wishes you and your family a happy and safe holiday season and a very prosperous 2020!
By Lisy Espindola, LCSW, Healthy Living Director