‘Tis the Season
Ahh, the holidays! Time for many to celebrate their faith. For others, to reflect on the accomplishments of yet another year gone by, and to plan for an even better one ahead. It is also a time to be with family, give thanks, serve others, and enjoy a break from the normal routines of life. Enter stress – the end of happy holidays for so many!
The holidays bring on an increasingly high level of undue stress for more reasons than there are days in the season. Financial struggles, health concerns, passing of a loved one, work deadlines, shopping, travel, and family squabbles are but a few that can spark fear, worry, sadness, anxiety, and depression. If you are not prepared for it, that is!
More Than just Emotional Stress
Add to typical holiday stress an increase in calorie intake, sedentary behavior, late nights/poor sleep, excessive alcohol intake, travel fatigue, and a general lack of attention to one’s health this time of year, and you have the perfect recipe for mental and physical health problems.
Suicide increase during the holidays is largely a myth. There are, however, direct correlations between increased mental and physical stress this time of year leading to exacerbation of depression and other mental health disorders. A resultant spike in the number of calls to suicide prevention and substance abuse hotlines is the natural outcome.
The Impact of the Holidays on our Health is Real
While this is a piece on stress around the holidays, the importance of physical health, which is directly impacted by stress, needs to be considered. The journal Circulation published research in 2004 showing a nationwide increase in heart attacks of 5% during the holidays. Peak incidence of heart attack was shown to occur on both Christmas and New Year’s Day! Coincidence??? Certainly not! An editorial in the same edition of this journal discussed further the “Merry Christmas Coronary” and the “Happy New Year Heart Attack” – related to increased mental and physical stress this time of year.
With the gloomy realities and statistics behind us, we can now focus on what is most important. What can we do to prevent or minimize the fallout of the holiday season to ensure we may enjoy it to the fullest? And, so that we may proceed with peace of mind, good health, and longevity into the year ahead?
12 Simple Steps to Minimize the Holiday Fallout
Drink responsibly. Limit your alcohol intake to one drink every 2 hours in social situations. Have a glass of water in between drinks to avoid intoxication and dehydration. Your brain will thank you!
Walk away. Don’t feel you must change anyone’s mind about politics, sports, or anything else for that matter. Engage in positive dialogue.
Reach out. If something is upsetting you, sometimes the worst thing to do is hold it in while everyone else is celebrating. Confide in a trusted source.
Don’t stress over shopping. Getting into fist fights over the newest TV or toy is clearly not what the holidays are about and will dramatically increase your stress levels. Is it really about the presents?
It’s OK not to travel. Many are compelled to travel due to family pressures and the like. It is OK to ‘skip a year’ if you are overwhelmed and feel you need a break.
Get to bed. Sleep cycles are impacted enough going into winter with shorter days and longer nights. Be mindful of sleep routines as they have a large impact on buffering chronic stress responses and clearing your brain of toxins.
Stick to your regular eating habits. If they are healthy ones, that is. It is OK to ‘sample the goods’ around the holidays, but overdoing it will be sure to weaken your immune system and allow stress to harm your brain and body.
Move your body. Exercise should be a regular part of your daily routine, especially around the holidays. It minimizes the effects of stress and burns the excess calories you will likely indulge in.
Meditate. Quiet time away from the distractions of the holidays to self-reflect and calm your mind will reduce stress levels.
Turn off the tube. TV usage skyrockets during the holidays for many, leading to less physical activity and social disconnection.
Play games, read, tell stories. All activities that will engage your mind and connect you to others around you during the holiday season.
Connect socially. One of the secrets to stress reduction. Social connection produced hormones that reduce stress. If you have little or no family and friends, volunteer opportunities abound.
There is help
For those experiencing undue stress during the holiday season (or any season) leading to withdrawn, erratic, or dangerous behavior, increased substance use, trouble at work, etc. – there is help! Brain Training such as neurofeedback and meditation are highly effective options for dealing with chronic stress outside of acute or emergency situations. In critical situations, you should call national helplines for immediate support:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255
National Substance Abuse Hotline: 1.800.622.HELP (4357)