The holiday meal is nearly ready, the table is set for your hungry guests and the presents are wrapped and waiting to be opened. But you would like nothing better than to crawl under the bed covers and take a nice, long nap!
The winter holiday season brings lots of rejoicing and a chance to share happy memories with loved ones. However, the desire to make the holidays picture-perfect can also bring some serious stress. Overindulging on holiday treats, racking up miles with far-away family visits and excessive spending on all of those “holiday specials” can make stress very difficult to manage.
The Journal of the American Medical Association has linked holiday stress and behavior changes to weakened immune systems and increased risks of heart attacks, digestive disorders, depression, insomnia and autoimmune disease. As we roll into the New Year, it’s important to understand that keeping your stress level in check affects not just our happiness, but also our health!
Researchers at The National Center for Biotechnology Information recently found that cardiac related emergency department visits increase by approximately 23 percent from December 25-January 7. Cardiac health issues can result from changes in diet sleep patterns, exercise and other behavioral patterns associated with the holidays.
Anytime we are out of our usual routine, we are at risk to become stressed. A medical study by Yale University defines stress as “the state in which individuals are faced with the need to make difficult or undesirable changes in order to adapt to events and situations in their lives.” The study goes on to explain that there are physical, emotional and behavioral indicators associated with stress that may include muscle aches, headaches, sleep problems, fatigue, anger, forgetfulness, impatience, and restlessness. These indicators are just a few of the signs that you may need to slow down and take a deep breath.
Research suggests that stress weakens the immune system. Under stress our bodies produce more cortisol, a hormone that suppresses the production of an enzyme that protects the body’s cells. This process can leave us vulnerable to a range of medical ailments, so the harmful ripple effects of chronic or acute stress during the holidays may be significant in some people.
Financial shortcomings can also be blamed for the anxiety people experience during the holidays. CNBC recently found that 56 percent of Americans who make $50,000 or under per year, do not have enough money set aside to cover holiday expenses. Money struggles paired with too many things to do – shopping, cleaning, cooking, decorating, traveling – it really is no wonder that seasonal pressures have the potential to put our health at risk.
The good news is, that even when stress seems to be at its peak, there are still ways to relax and enjoy holidays. The American Psychological Association offers the following tips to help tame and reduce holiday stress:
Additionally, the online health information source WebMD suggests that by filling your plate with essential antioxidants like beta-carotene (apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, peaches, spinach, etc.), vitamin C (blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, strawberries, etc.) and vitamin E (margarine, nuts and seeds, vegetable oil and wheat germ, etc.), you can help your body fight off the free radicals that slow the immune system.
When you talk about rattled holiday nerves and stress with others, you’ll no doubt find a reassuring camaraderie that helps put things in perspective. And consider professional help if you’re overwhelmed. While other factors might contribute to depression during the holiday season, experts advise that those suffering from debilitating stress or anxiety should talk to a doctor or counselor. Don’t try to wait it out until January hoping you’ll feel better by then.
By understanding what pushes our stress buttons during the holiday season, we can work to reduce or eliminate those factors. And, in doing so, we can create a simpler, sweeter celebration that leaves us feeling refreshed and eager to take on the new year ahead.