- Mental Health
Less Stress for the Holidays 5; Taming Tension
The Most Wonderful (and Stressful) Time of the Year
The headache starts in the morning, before your first cup of coffee. By lunchtime, your shoulders are tense, your neck aches and your head throbs. More coffee. Lunch. Aspirin. A candy bar. More coffee. Nothing seems to help. Exhausted by the time you get home, you realize that it’s only November 1st, but the holiday season has already begun.
The Holiday Season comes like a freight train, the day after Halloween. Kids are out late, for tricks-or-treats, parents are up late, waiting for them to come home, handing out candy to the neighborhood ghosts and ghouls, and eating a few handfuls of candy bars.
After a groggy night of not enough sleep, you awaken to realize that it is November and Thanksgiving is only three weeks away. Christmas will soon follow, before you might be ready. As your head throbs, your belly aches, and your nerves tighten, you hope to survive another holiday season.
Below are several tips to help you not only survive, but also enjoy the holidays.
Holiday Season Blur
According to the American Psychological Association, in a 2012 study called Holiday Stress, the holidays bring additional stress to already busy lives.
Key findings of the study:
- Women feel more stress during the holidays and have a harder time relaxing.
- Holiday stress deeply impacts low and middle income households.
- The holiday season is a time of increased emotion, both positive and negative.
- Families feel more stress trying to make the holidays perfect.
- Workplace stress remains a factor during the holidays.
The Effects of Stress
Stress and tension account to some degree for 75% of doctor visits. Your body does not differentiate between physical danger, and psychological threats.Whether you are facing an actual tiger at the door (rare, in most cases), a nightmare traffic jam, or are anxiously fretting about bills, schedules and work, your body cannot tell the difference. What the body feels is stress. Tension. A desire to flee or to fight is created, and you are suddenly filled with hormones.
The release of cortisol and adrenaline into the blood stream will occur whether you are facing immediate physical harm, or if you are in an argument, worrying about bills or stuck in traffic. Even worrying about something as harmless as the holidays can lead to the release of stress hormones. These continual psychological stressors can cause a great deal of harm to your body and over time, can lead to serious health problems.
The presence of cortisol in the blood stream has been linked to high blood pressure, weight gain, sleeplessness, headaches and has even been linked to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been shown to effect such chronic diseases as diabetes and even stroke. Cortisol is released anytime you feel stressed, aggravated or agitated.
Adrenaline is a stress hormone, secreted by the adrenal glands, near the kidneys. Adrenaline increases the heart rate and respiration (you begin breathing faster and your heart is pounding). It also inhibits the production of insulin and increases the burning of sugar and fat, so the body has energy for a fight or flight situation. Over time, repeated adrenaline rushes can lead to weakening of the heart muscle, heart failure and heart attack. It can also lead to memory loss in the brain.
Overall, stress is a key indicator in heart disease, inflammation, chronic stress and many other common health problems.
Breathing 1 2 3
Relaxation Breathing in Three Steps:
- Inhale deeply and slowly as you count to three.
- Hold the full breath for three counts.
- Exhale deeply and completely to a count of six.
Repeat as necessary.
Breathing for Relaxation
Any time your body feels stressed, you engage the sympathetic nervous system. This activates the fight or flight response. The body tenses up, expecting to encounter danger. In this day and age, you rarely encounter physical dangers, but the mental stressors you encounter daily still cause your body to react in panic.
The result of the stress is the release of stress hormones into the body, to activate the flight or fight response, or the sympathetic nervous system.
The easiest way to counteract the sympathetic nervous system is to breathe. As you breathe deeply, exhaling completely, you engage the parasympathetic nervous system. This limbic system engages the rest, relax and restore portion of the brain. Serotonin is released and the body can relax and heal.
Throughout the day, as you move into the holiday season, try to remember to pause and breathe. Be aware of your breath. To practice deep breathing and enjoy the benefits of relaxation, follow these simple steps.
First, take a moment to focus on your breath. Sit or stand quietly and bring your attention to your breathing, without trying to change it. Now, as you connect to your breath, take a long inhale, counting to three.
On the first count of your inhale, feel your belly expanding as the breath fills the bottom of your chest and lungs. On the second count, as you continue inhaling, allow your rib cage to expand. Finally on the third count, continue inhaling and filling the top of your chest.
Now that your abdominal cavity is full of air and expanded, sit for three counts, feeling that fullness. Be aware of how your body feels with all of that oxygen coursing through. Don't struggle or resist. Just be aware of the fullness of your breath.
Finally, exhale slowly, deeply and completely, for three counts. Expel all of the air from your chest, until you feel completely empty. Breathe out loudly. Now hold that empty space for three counts, noticing how your body feels.
Repeat this sequence three times, paying attention to your stress and anxiety levels. By the end of the third series, your body should feel more relaxed.
Simple breathing exercise for relaxation
Simple Self Massage
- Gently warm oil in a pan or sink full of hot water.
- Beginning at the temples, slowly rub warm oil into your scalp, face and neck using slow, gently circles.
- Work down each arm, and take time to massage each finger.
- Massage the torso and back.
- Work down each leg and foot.
Relaxation Through Massage
For the sake of your well being, it is important to learn to relieve tension. According to the Mayo Clinic, massage is one way to relieve stress, manage anxiety and depression and boost immunity. While getting a regular massage from a professional practitioner can get expensive, it is possible to enjoy some of the healing and relaxing benefits of massage by giving yourself a massage.
Massage is the manipulation of skin, muscles, tissues and ligaments. It only takes a moment to learn how to manipulate your tissue in order to relieve stress and tension, and improve your health.
Many cultures and the science of Ayurveda promote the value of self massage as a course of healing the body from stress and anxiety.
Using warm oil to massage your own body every day not only nourishes the skin, but it also relieves stress, increases circulation, removes toxins from the body, calms the nerves and makes skin and hair soft and shiny.
Do It Yourself Massage
Reiki For Relaxation
Another useful way to ease tension is through Reiki treatments. Reiki is a Japanese form of alternative medicine, which uses a transfer of universal energy. Reiki has been used to treat stress in Japan for many years. Unlike massage, Reiki does not always involve touch. The transfer of energy moves through the Reiki master and to the places where it will be most beneficial.
This transfer of energy is a powerful, relaxing and healing technique. It is also possible to give yourself Reiki treatments, but for the full energy exchange, it is best to seek out a Reiki Master, who has been attuned. A Reiki treatment is like a spiritual massage. Where massage manipulates the skin, tissue and muscles, Reiki soothes the energy field and eases a troubled mind.
Before you begin a Reiki session, it is important to set your intention. Think about what you would like to receive from the treatment. On a spiritual level, what would you like to have happen? Set that intention before you begin your Reiki session. Reiki is a positive exchange of universal energy, and to receive the most benefit, setting your intention will help direct the energy in a positive and healing direction.
You can direct your intention toward physical healing of a particular ailment, toward an emotional healing for something that happened in your past, or something that is happening now, or for spiritual healing. If you can't think of an intention, you can always direct the energy to your own best good. The Reiki practitioner will also be working with the intention of the best good for both of you, and for no harm to come to either of you.
Following your Reiki session, focus on the positive feelings of healing energy. Do not jump frantically back into your life, but slowly focus on being rather than doing. Let your body adjust to the new energy, and let it settle into your own energy field.
Reiki For Relaxation
Relaxation Begins With You
A third way to relieve stress, especially around the holidays is to learn relaxation techniques. According to Relaxation Therapist Beverly Taggart, there are two main components that make people feel stressed. These are the things you choose to do, and the attitude you take.
Taggart suggests for the things you choose to do, remember, there are no “have to’s”. First, keep in mind that you can create your holidays however you want. Second, do the things you enjoy and don’t do the things you don’t like. It seems simple, but often we feel obligated to keep up traditions that no longer have meaning, or have become outgrown or outdated. Third, throw away the “have to’s” and do only the “want to’s”. Finally, remember to say no. Don’t overwhelm yourself by doing too much. We often expect too much of ourselves, and people will take advantage if we don’t say no.
The second component to stress is your own attitude. You can choose to make the holiday season a gift rather than a burden, to yourself and to your family. Remember that the holidays can be fun if you aren’t too picky.
Now is a good time to let go of the perfectionist attitude and enjoy spending time with the family. Try n not focus on an event, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas Day as the final destination, but enjoy the process as the holidays unfold.
Spend time looking forward to and cherishing the days leading up to those holidays. Talk to family members, decide on traditions, and enjoy the time. When the big day finally comes, try to relax and enjoy it. There is no need for everything to be perfect. The most important thing to remember is to share yourself with the people you love.
Being stressed is largely a choice. People think they should be stressed, but you can choose peace in any given moment. When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed, you can choose again.
Stop once or twice during the day (or if you have access to an hourly chime, practice listening for it, and do this exercise every hour.), take a moment to just be quiet. Breathe deeply several times and release tension. With your eyes closed, take a moment to internally scan for tension. Take a deep breath, make a decision to relax, and as you exhale, breathe the tension out of your body. Roll your head a few times, shrug your shoulders, and then get back to work. This technique takes only a moment, and works to prevent stress from building up during the day.
During the holiday season, it seems inevitable that we will experience stress. For everyone, it is important to continue practicing self-care and maintain our health. Using the relaxation techniques above, it is possible to make it through the season healthy, relaxed and happy.
© 2010 Deborah Demander