2017 has been a whirlwind year, and we’re still amid political, economic, social, and environmental changes that have left us a stressed-out nation. Internationally, the political scene has been a shocker for many. Starting with the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union; Donald Trump’s upsetting presidential election in the United States, and the Italian Electorate’s rejection of Matteo Renzi’s constitutional reforms. Increased terrorism, mass shootings, gun violence, police violence against minorities captured on cell phones and other digital devices, seep into our living spaces creating more anxiety. And to top it off, the hurricane season is on us with Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria uprooting millions of families and devastating cities. It’s a wonder we’re not all taking antidepressant medication.
What is Stress and How does it affect you mentally and physically?
The American Psychological Association (APA) states that everyone experiences stress differently. “Symptoms include a combination of emotional (worry, tension, irritability) and physical (headaches, insomnia, stomach problems) reactions.” And everyone has a unique coping mechanism, some unhealthier than others:
- Excessive alcohol.
- Excessive smoking.
- Emotional eating.
- Excessive caffeine.
- Withdrawing from friends and family.
Acute stress or normal stress involves a sudden rush of hormones, rapid heartbeat, and sweating. It helps us deal with life’s daily challenges (meeting school and work deadlines, divorce, death, on-the-spot situations such as public speaking, etc.). However, when stress becomes unmanageable, causing adverse physiologically symptoms, it’s considered chronic stress. Adverse physiological symptoms range from:
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Heart disease, and
- High blood pressure.
Holiday Season and Stress
If life isn’t stressful enough, the holidays can bring added pressures. Despite all its demands, many of us love holiday festivities, sharing and giving, and spending time with family and friends. But for some, holiday obligations—travel, family reunions, parties, shopping, preparing home decorations, and holiday meals, can be overwhelming. The “holiday blues,” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) spikes during fall and winter, triggered by unrealistic expectations brought on by a commercialized society, excessive commitments, and overspending. Psychology Today explains that excessive self-reflection is another cause contributing to seasonal depression as well as dark winter weather. Self-reflection is the constant comparison of your life to others—what you have and don’t have. Trying to keep up with neighbors and friends and achieve a perfect holiday season, can lead to increased debt and ensuing disenchantment after the New Year. Seasonal depression can be worst for the lonely (those without family or friends to share the season), and unemployed. These factors may lead to deeper depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms (excessive drinking, drug use, and overeating), and may require the help of a qualified mental health professional.
Coping With Holiday Stress
Mindfulness has been practiced for two and a half thousand years. It originated in religious practices of Eastern culture—Hinduism and Buddhism which inspired the practice of yoga. With yoga’s increasing popularity in western culture, mindfulness has become a mainstream term and practice. Mindfulness defined as “maintaining moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment,” is an excellent method to lessen stress. The practice involves exercises in deep breathing and self-awareness through meditation and mindful movements. It allows us to live in the moment, in a natural state of mind, and fully focused and aware of our choices, moment by moment. Several mindful techniques—mindful breathing, mindful activities, and mindful walking might keep you calm and centered this holiday season.
- Mindful Breathing: With your eyes closed, take several, deep breaths and pay close attention to each inhalation and exhalation. This can be done anywhere, during yoga or meditation, lying down, sitting at your desk, outside in a natural setting such as a park. Practiced several times a day it can rid your mind of racing thoughts.
- Mindful Activities: Practice mindful activities by focusing fully on one task. If the job is wrapping gifts, concentrate only on that effort. This allows you to live in the moment, not worrying about what has to be done or wasn’t done.
- Mindful Walks: Meditative walks in the sun will help raise serotonin and ease symptoms of SAD (seasonal depression) and help you think clearer. It requires awareness of your movements and the surrounding environment. This conscious effort creates a closer bond with nature, strengthen concentration, and connect you to the present moment.
Several Healthy Coping Mechanisms
- Set realistic goals and expectations (trim your to-do-list down to manageable tasks)
- Reach out to friends for help in sharing holiday responsibilities
- Limit excessive spending by enjoying inexpensive ways to enjoy the holiday
- Join a charity and worthwhile causes helping less fortunate people
- Forego traditions with a different spin on Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration with supportive, caring friends
- Avoid excessive alcohol and overeating. Alcohol is a depressant which will only leave you feeling more depressed and fatigued. Gaining a few more pounds won’t make you feel any better
- Take care of you: Exercise daily, try yoga and meditation, slip into a soothing bath, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. But most importantly surround yourself with supportive family and friends
- Be grateful for what you have and stop worrying about what you don’t have. So many have lost their lives and worldly possessions from natural disasters this year. Think of how blessed you are to be alive, healthy, and loved.
For more interesting reading on managing stress see
American Psychological Association (February 2017). Managing Stress Related to Political Change. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-political-change.aspx
Center For Studies On Human Stress (CSHS). Understanding Your Stress: Acute vs. Chronic Stress. Retrieved from http://www.humanstress.ca/stress/understand-your-stress/acute-vs-chronic-stress.html
Scott, M.S., Elizabeth (April 16, 2017). Unhealthy Response to Stress and Common Bad Habits https://www.verywell.com/unhealthy-responses-to-stress-bad-habits-to-avoid-3145260
What Is Mindfulness? Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/mindfulness/ definition
Williams, Ray (2010). Why People Get Depressed At Christmas: Christmas Season Brings Depression for Some. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201011/why-people-get-depressed-christmas
Tags: Acute Stress, Chronic Stress, Holiday Blues, Health and Wellness, Mindfulness, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Seasonal Depression, Stress Management, Stress Coping Mechanisms