Home HEALTH HEALTH CHECK Don’t let the holidays stress you out

Don’t let the holidays stress you out

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Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your health. Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support
holiday-stressAlong with holiday feasts, family reunions and presents, many people get an unwelcome gift– high levels of stress. Buying presents, preparing meals, dealing with family all adds pressure on our time- strapped lives.
For women, stress levels can rise even higher at this time of year, according to a new study in the December 2003 issue of Molecular Psychiatry. Findings from the study indicate that women may be more vulnerable to stress-related illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, due to cyclical changes in their estrogen levels.
Depression tends to peak during the holiday season. More than 44 percent of women and 34 percent of men report feeling sad, according to the National Mental Health Association.
But managing stress in a healthy way is vital to our health. Stress comes in two forms: acute and chronic. Acute stress is temporary and often intense while chronic stress is longer, lasting weeks and months.
A healthy person can usually handle temporary periods of stress, and most people get through the holidays just fine. But when added in with
the causes of chronic stress–such as financial worries, health concerns, ongoing familial strife and the like–the increased amount of stress this time of year can become overwhelming.
This is particularly true if a person has difficulty saying “no” to requests and demands. Responsibilities and tasks continue to mount. Excessive stress can have a devastating impact on the body. It lowers the body’s immune system, making illness more likely, increases the risk of heart-related conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and can even lead to cardiac events, including heart attack. Long-lasting periods of stress have been linked to increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia) and higher levels of cholesterol. Heart patients in particular should learn how to handle their stress in healthy and appropriate ways. Often, the best way to handle stress is to
preempt it:
  • If you’re hosting a party or dinner for a large number of people, enlist some help beforehand, or prepare some of the dishes ahead of time and freeze them. Not only can you defuse stress before it happens, sharing the tasks can bring families and friends closer.
  • Don’t try to resolve family grudges during the holidays. Trying to hash things out during the holidays is rarely a good idea.
  • Set aside 30 to 60 minutes to nap, take a walk or a nice bath or engage in a nonstressful activity on a regular basis (each day, if possible). Just having a relaxing activity to look forward to can help alleviate stress.
  • Use breathing exercises and/or visualization techniques to help you keep your cool during those times when you’re feeling overwhelmed. (If you’re waiting impatiently on line at the supermarket, for instance, imagine yourself walking on a sandy beach.)
  • Cardiovascular exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Twenty minutes of a good workout can do wonders for your patience and your mood.
These are just a few ways to help you keep your cool this season. If things really feel out of control, don’t be afraid to find a good listener and talk it out.