‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly?
Posted on December 1, 2014 by Tamberly Mott
It’s that time of year! And if you are the type of person to make to-do lists, chances are you’ve already begun a few for upcoming celebrations. A typical holiday to-do list might include buying decorations, making a gift budget and sending out cards and invitations.
What we generally don’t see on holiday to-do lists are things like slowing down and staying present to acknowledge feelings, keeping healthy habits and thinking about what you’re grateful for every day.
But the truth is, holidays can be a jolly and gratifying opportunity to honor rituals, become closer to family and friends, get in touch with unselfish needs and increase meaning in your life. Realistically, it is also true that the holidays can be extremely exhausting and, for many, a time that evokes emotional pain and stress.
Rather than let holiday stress hijack your “jolly,” how about making it a priority to recognize when you’re stressed and learn to seek peace?
The first step for many is to understand stress. Simply put: Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand – good or bad.
Some of the most common forms of stress include:
Survival stress – The classic fight-flight-or-freeze response when one is in danger or afraid of something or someone, either real or perceived.
Internal stress – Worry and psychological pressure one puts on themself. This is common among those who seek high levels of control and/or those who tend to be perfectionists. This is also common among people who suffer from depression and/or anxiety.
Environmental stress – Responding to noise, crowding and pressure from work, family or others, either real or perceived. This is common in today’s “24/7” society.
Fatigue stress – Not getting sufficient rest over time. This is also common in society today where people stay constantly stimulated with Internet, media, etc., and do not make time to quiet the mind and truly rest.
Physiologically, when the body experiences stress, the sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, preparing the body for action by increasing the heart rate, increasing the release of sugar from the liver and releasing hormone chemicals into the blood. These chemicals provide energy and strength, which is helpful if someone is in actual physical danger. However, when stress results from something psychological or emotional, there is no outlet for the additional energy caused by the stress hormones. This is when the parasympathetic nervous system (PN) can come to the body’s rescue. The PN activates tranquil functions, stimulating the secretion of saliva and digestive enzymes into the stomach and working to reduce blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.
The great news is you can learn to increase your body’s ability to trigger your PN. Meditation, the practice of mindfulness and yoga are great ways to activate your PN. But, if you can’t get to your yoga class because your relatives have just landed on your doorstep, there are five quick and easy things you can do:
- Close and relax your eyes. Gently cover them with the palms of your hands or a damp cloth.
- Open your mouth wide, yawn and relax your tongue.
- Take a deep breath. Exhale and relax the diaphragm area. The key is to inhale and exhale for the same duration.
- Visualize being in a comfortable and safe setting.
- Bring to mind a positive, heartfelt emotion like contentment and gratitude.
Here are a few more strategies to help you enjoy the holiday season:
- Recognize what you can influence or change and accept what you cannot.
- Check your perspective to reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions.
- Examine your priorities, attitudes and obligations. Seek balance.
- Develop emotional supports and use them responsibly.
- Organize yourself (including making time for rest and mindfulness), set your budget and make your lists.
Now the question remains: How will your holiday to-do list be different this year? Be sure to include a line item for remaining calm and you just might have an easier, more enjoyable season.
Category: Caregiver Support