The holiday season is a time full of joy, cheer, parties, and family gatherings. However, for many people, it is also a time filled with anxiety, stress, and weight gain. Over the next few weeks, we will give you all the info you need to have a happy, healthy and guilt free holiday.  Today, let’s talk about stress and how we can better manage it.

Stress during the Holidays is created by the following factors:

  • Shopping
  • Gift Wrapping
  • Parties
  • Mailing Cards and Packages

  • House Guests
  • Missing Loved ones
  • Cleaning
  • Cooking

All of these stressors lead to the body’s stress response which in turn leads to fatigue, anxiety, emotional eating, and weight gain.

Symptoms of Stress

The physical symptoms outlined below may result from or be exacerbated by stress: (Physical symptoms can be caused by other illnesses, if symptoms are present it is important to be evaluated by a doctor)

  • Sleep disturbances
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension –
  • Back, shoulder or neck pain, tension or migraine headaches.
  • Skin problems (hives, eczema, psoriasis, itching)
  • Upset or acid stomach, cramps, heartburn, gas, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea
  • Immune system suppression: more colds, flu, infections

  • Irregular heartbeat, palpitations
  • Asthma , shortness of breath/chest pain.
  • Sweaty palms or hands, cold hands or feet
  • Weight gain or loss, eating disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Periodontal disease, jaw pain
  • Reproductive / sexual problems.

What Exactly Is Stress…?

The key to maintaining your health and sanity throughout the Holidays is controlling the stress that accompanies the season. We’re going to give you tips and strategies on how to deal with stress, but first we want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what actually stress is and how it effects our health.

The stress response is the body‘s mechanism of protecting itself from a threat to its wellbeing. When confronted with a stressor, the body immediately readies itself to take physical action (fight or flight). This mechanism worked tremendously well a few hundred thousand years ago for our ancient ancestors when they were being chased by a saber tooth tiger or being threatened by neighboring tribes. Well, times have changed, but the body’s response to stress hasn’t.  Today we deal with more emotional stress vs. physical stress.

Emotional Symptoms of Stress

The following emotional symptoms can affect your physical health, work performance, and your relationships with others: (As with physical symptoms, emotional symptoms such as anxiety or depression can mask conditions other than stress. It is important to find out whether they are stress-related or not)

  • Nervousness / Anxiety
  • Memory problems
  • Depression
  • Lack of concentration or focus

  • Moodiness / Irritability
  • Substance abuse
  • Phobias
  • Feeling out of control

All of the above symptoms of emotional stress can lead to the following diseases over time:

  • Heart Disease
  • Obessive Complusive or Anxiety Disorder
  • Cancer

  • Depression
  • Ulcers
  • Substance Abuse

  • Diabetes
  • Hair Loss

Stress increases heart and breathing rates and the body’s demand for oxygen. Rapid shallow breathing decreases the efficiency of oxygen delivery to your brain, muscles, and the rest of your body, as well as inhibits the clearing of carbon dioxide (a metabolic waste product) from the body. Lack of oxygen causes increased anxiety, poor mental concentration and inhibits growth and repair of tissue. Learning to control breathing is one of the best ways to control stress and to assure your cells are receiving adequate amounts of life giving oxygen all while ridding the body of toxic waste products.

There’s hope for us! You can significantly affect your ability to handle stress by simply changing the rhythm and depth of your breathing. The following exercise is easy to do and can be practiced almost anywhere and in any situation, including when you are waiting in line at the store, stuck in traffic, sitting on a plane, or any other time you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Breathing Exercises

Take a Deep Breath

Stress increases heart and breathing rates and the body’s demand for oxygen. Rapid shallow breathing decreases the efficiency of oxygen delivery to you brain, muscles, and the rest of your body, as well as inhibits the clearing of carbon dioxide (a metabolic waste product) from the body.

Lack of oxygen causes increased anxiety, poor mental concentration and inhibits growth and repair of tissue. Learning to control breathing is one of the best ways to control stress and to assure your cells are receiving adequate amounts of life giving oxygen all while ridding the body of toxic
waste products.

Abdominal / Diaphragmatic Breathing
• Put one hand on your abdomen, at the naval, and put your other hand on the center of your chest.
• Inhale deeply through your mouth, pay close attention to your abdomen. Proper diaphragmatic breathing will cause your abdomen to rise as your lungs fill with air. The hand on your chest should move only slightly. If your chest rises more than your abdomen you are breathing from your chest. Inhale for approximately 3 seconds.   Exhale through your mouth for at least 5 seconds.  Hold this exhaled position for 3-5 seconds.
• Repeat, but this time, breathe in through your nose. Breathing through your nose is better than breathing through your mouth because your nose warms, filters and moistens the air and allows more efficient delivery of air to the lungs.

He is a quick video about the importance of diaphragmatic breathing:

As you breathe, you should notice that your body will start to relax. So give it a try.  It is easy to do and can help your body relieve any stress that your body is experiencing.

Our next Bah Humbug – Stress and the Holidays Series will focus on Healthy Holiday Eating.

Part 2: Healthy Holiday Survival – Healthy Holiday Eating

article written by dave radin, bs, cscs