How many of us have a love/hate relationship with the holidays?
What is the one word you would associate with the ‘hate’ part? In other words, what is it that interferes with your enjoyment of the holidays?
Stress! Stress about money, time to get it all done, spending time with relatives we may not get along with or just don’t like, worrying about eating and drinking too much, what gifts to buy, etc.
We all have stress, if you’re alive, you’ve got stress. During the holidays our stress levels ramp up and can put a damper on our enjoyment of the season.
Let's take a look at what stress does to our bodies and learn some strategies to deal with it in our everyday lives and especially at this time of year.
Stress is the real deal. It is a real and natural physiological reaction to both bad and good experiences.
Two types of stress: acute or chronic
Acute stress is a good thing. It’s something we need to respond to a perceived danger or threat in our immediate environment. If we couldn’t adapt or deal with this stress, we would die. This is known as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response.
For example if you are taking a walk in the jungle enjoying the beauty and suddenly a Bengal tiger jumps out at you. Do you think you’ll have a stress response? What does that feel like? What is going on in your body? You are going to fight or flee. If you don’t you will perish.
It’s important to note that there is only one physiological stress response in the body. It is the same whether it is triggered by acute stress (Bengal tiger) or chronic stress. So herein lies the problem.
Chronic stress, as you can probably guess, is a state of being under stress most or all of the time. There are many causes of chronic stress; Pressures of everyday living; responsibilities at work and at home, too much to do and not enough time to do it, negative life events like divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of a job cause, physical illness or injury, financial worries, strained relationships at home or work. Worry about what is happening in our country and in the world not to mention living at the time of a global pandemic also cause stress. Chronic stress can cause symptoms such as irritability, headache, anxiety, depression and insomnia and can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, digestive issues, increased pain sensitivity and decreased immunity.
So how does chronic stress cause these issues?
You’re stuck in traffic, late for a really important meeting, watching the minutes tick away. You’ll start to feel stressed, right? Your hypothalamus, a tiny control tower in your brain, decides to send out the order: Send in the stress hormones! (adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol) These stress hormones are the same ones that trigger your body’s “fight or flight” response. Your heart rate goes up, your breath quickens and your muscles ready for action. This response was designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly, basically to survive. When the perceived threat is gone, the Central Nervous System should tell all systems to go back to normal. It has done its job. If the CNS fails to return to normal because the stressor(s) doesn’t go away and the stress response keeps firing day after day and the stress hormone levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a toll on your health.
Stress hormones affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During the stress response, you breathe faster in an effort to distribute oxygen and blood quickly to your body core. If you have preexisting respiratory problems like asthma or emphysema, stress can make it harder to breathe.
Your heart also pumps faster and your blood vessels constrict and raise your blood pressure. That happens in order to get oxygen to your muscles so you’ll have more strength and energy to take action, to fight or flee.
Frequent or chronic stress makes your heart work too hard for too long, raising your risk of hypertension and problems with your blood vessels and heart. You’re at higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
Under stress, your liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to give you a boost of energy. Unused blood sugar is reabsorbed by the body. If you’re under chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with these extra glucose surges, and you may be at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes or obesity.
The stress response also raises fats and cholesterol in the blood for wound healing and production of hormones. When bad cholesterol is too high, it can build up in your arteries. This affects how blood flows to your brain and your heart, which could cause stroke or heart attack.
The rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate can upset your digestive system. You’re more likely to have heartburn or acid reflux. Contrary to popular believe, stress doesn’t cause ulcers — a bacterium called H. pylori does — but stress may cause existing ulcers to act up. You might experience nausea, vomiting, or a stomachache. Stress can affect the way food moves through your body, leading to diarrhea or constipation.
Under stress, your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury. I’m sure you have felt your muscles tighten up when stressed and release again once you relax. If you’re constantly under stress, your muscles don’t get the chance to relax. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches. Over time, you may stop exercising and turn to pain medication, setting off an unhealthy cycle.
High cortisol levels suppress the immune and inflammatory responses causing inhibition of histamine secretion and inflammatory response to invading viruses or bacteria. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold. It increases risk of other opportunistic diseases and infections. It can also increase the time it takes to recover from illness or injury.
The bottom line is that we aren’t meant to run from the tiger all day long, every day
So how do we break the cycle? How do we stay calm and enjoy the holidays?
It’s a good question, right?
There’s 2 strategies. One of them is obvious, we reduce stress in our life. Much easier said than done!
Let’s be realistic here, we can’t always change stressors because we may have no control over them. But what we do have control over is how we respond or react to them. In many cases it is our point of view of people, issues, situations or events and not those things themselves that determine our reaction. Sometimes we need to look at our perception software and upgrade it. For example, some people are wired to be glass half empty type of people. Or we need to recognize that we have a choice to change our response. Blaming our reactions on the stressor (person, issue, situation, event, etc) makes us a victim of the stress. We have choices! We can take responsibility by choosing our response. It’s self-preservation!
The second strategy is to recognize what we can control or change and take the steps to do that.
So how do we do that? Again, it’s all about choices and mindset. Much of our stress is self-inflicted.
For example, not having enough time is a major stressor. We make choices all the time about how we use our time. Planning effects time and proper planning in advance decreases stress by managing time. The choices we make can add or take away from our stress. Exercise or not, eat well or not, get enough sleep, drink or eat too much, etc
It’s important to remember to take the time to relax or decompress during this busy season. Usually, we skip the things that allow us to decompress because we feel so stressed for time. But again, this is about choices.
Is your way of decompressing spending time on Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, TV or any of the other myriad of time sucking activities? We all know how we can go on to one of these things and the next thing you know an hour or two has passed. Now you’re beating yourself up and stressing out because you wasted time that you needed to be doing other things. The solution could be to choose not to do it at all or to set a timer for the activity; only as much time as you are willing to spare. Or substitute the time sucking media activities for something else that you enjoy and find decompressing. It could even be one of your holiday preparation activities that you would normally enjoy if you didn’t feel that you don’t have the time or energy for it at this busy time of year. It’s all about your mindset, planning and choices of how you use your time. (I like wrapping, it is therapeutic to me. I choose to shop early and wrap as I go so I actually use the activity as a stress releaser and at the same time I am getting something done that needs to be done for the holidays. Killing 2 birds with one stone!)
Don’t skip the healthful or relaxing activities that you do to regularly to keep yourself sane like exercise, meditating, reading, knitting, yoga, puzzles, games, recreational sports, crafts, etc. You can choose to limit the time you might do some of these activities but don’t skip them altogether. Balance is key here!
Twice a day, for five minutes, practice deep breathing.
Try to notice when you are experiencing the signs or symptoms of stress like irritability, headache, anxiety, insomnia, rapid breathing and heartbeat and STOP for a minute. Have a seat, close your eyes and center your attention on your breath. Don’t try to change or control it, only focus on it. In only a few minutes you can change your response and feel calmer.
Lastly we need to have our bodies in the best shape to adapt to life’s stressors:
There’s 4 keys:
1. Nutrition, what we put in our body: None of us can achieve the perfect diet but if we know what it should be, we can work towards it. Innate diet? 65% fruits and veggies, 35% proteins, 1 cup of grain, we tend to do this backwards and eat tons of grains, pastas, breads and less fruit and veggies
2. Exercise: Need to make time for this! 3 to 5 times per week. 3 different types of exercise.
Cardio vascular exercise/aerobic for 15 to 20 minutes of sustained exercise, running, walking, cycling. Works the heart which is a muscle and needs training! Strength training, weight lifting to build muscle tissue. Muscle tissue at rest has a higher metabolism, so it burns more calories and puts tension on the bones which increases bone density.
Functional exercise, in daily routine, parking far away,
For those of you with Fit Bits or other devices that measure steps, getting in your daily step target.
3. Avoid toxins, in food, water, medications, health and beauty aids, household cleaning products
4. Properly functioning nervous system. The CNS is the brain, spinal cord and nerves. The nervous system is the system that controls all systems. Every cell, tissue, organ and muscle gets its function from nerves. The nervous system is the body’s information superhighway. The spinal cord is an extension of the brain and runs through a tunnel in the vertebral column. The nerves exit the cord and pass between the vertebrae. The hole is created by the junction of the two vertebrae. Misalignment of the spinal bones can put pressure on the nerve causing stress and interfering with the flow of information across that nerve. The chiropractor’s job is to find these misalignments called subluxations and correct them to relief the pressure on the nerve. This allows for full communication between the brain and the body so it can function at its best and adapt to stress the best way possible.
My goal as a chiropractor is to help people live a healthier life by removing the interferences to their nervous systems caused by subluxations so that they can adapt to stress better and function at their best.
Thank-you so much for taking the time to read this far.
If you would like to have your spine evaluated for subluxations, I am offering you a complimentary initial visit to see if chiropractic can help you live a better life. Please mention the Stress Blog when scheduling your appointment. 781-923-1226
If you have any questions about this post or anything else, please send me an email. email@example.com
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