Fitness Facts: Controlling stress over the holidays
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
The holiday season is accompanied by the pressures and expectations of home decorating, home cooking and holiday parties coupled with the navigation of the overcrowded malls and parking lots. ’Tis the season for stress, emotional eating and chronic fatigue.
A stressful environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomach ache, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
It also can contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes, and abusing drugs and alcohol.
With so many people dreading the stress of the holiday season coupled with the stress of a normal day’s work, it can feel overwhelming and lead to an increase in the physical symptoms mentioned above.
What can you do to control some of the unwanted effects of stress?
- With all the demands of holiday parties and events, we often spread ourselves too thin and deprive our bodies of much needed sleep. Sleep is essential for our bodies to repair and regroup. If you are sleep deprived, even the smallest issues can seem like huge disasters. A good night’s sleep (7-9 hours) has amazing restorative powers and can help you maintain your resilience to handle the expectations of the season. If you need to say “no” to a late night party or excuse yourself early, your body will thank you! And so will those around you!
- I know, I know … “eat your veggies” is not what you want to hear right now. BUT it may be necessary to plan a few meals that are rich in fresh veggies to sustain your energy levels during the busy holiday season. Eating only cakes, cookies and pies will not only zap your energy but also may lead to depression and stomach issues.
- Go for a walk. While it may be difficult to stick to your normal workout routine, you still can reap the rewards of physical activity by going for a walk. If you have friends over, invite them to walk the neighborhoods looking at the Christmas lights. The benefits of walking outside observing the beauty of nature are even more beneficial to decreasing stress as well as increasing physical activity.
- Set a budget. Work toward coming out of the holiday season financially fit. It’s important to take a realistic inventory of what we have to spend and set a budget for each person on our list. It isn’t worth binging on gifts if we are only going to suffer from the credit card hangover in January. Set realistic expectations on what gifts are essential. Most people will not even remember the gift you bought in a week, but you may be stuck with months (or more) of debt. Remember the reason why we give. Homemade, personalized gifts can give lasting heartfelt memories. Toys and gadgets break and wear out, but our memories remain.
Remember, the spirit of giving is not about how much we spend but how much of ourselves we give to others:
- Schedule time to relax. No matter who you are and what your personality type is, you need to rest and recoup. Make sure you are scheduling downtime. That could mean something as simple as a quiet afternoon on the couch watching Christmas movies or catching up over coffee with a friend you have not seen in a long time.
- Avoid high traffic times and try not to procrastinate. Get up early and get to the store before everyone else does. Then you can take a nap in the afternoon while everyone else is out!
- Establish boundaries. This is probably the hardest for most of us because we often feel the need to do it all and please our friends and/or family members, BUT we must take care of ourselves in order to be good to others. Say “no” when you need to say “no.”
- Think and speak positive thoughts about the Christmas season that remind you of Christ’s love for us: Today I look for the beauty in everyone and everything. Today I take a moment to count my blessings. I am loved deeply.
Whatever your stressors may be during this busy season, make the most of it by implementing safeguards to decrease the physical and emotional effects of stress.
At any time, if you feel as if it is too much to deal with and you are having depressive feelings or physical symptoms, reach out to a health care provider to discuss a plan to help you overcome these obstacles.