Don’t Stress the Holidays

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 4:13 PM comments (0)

holiday stressStress is our body’s reaction to something which upsets the normal balance of life, something more than our usual day-to-day duties and obligations. Stress often triggers a “fight or flight” response. During stressful events, the adrenal glands release adrenalin, a hormone that activates the body’s defense mechanisms, causing the heart rate and blood pressure to increase, muscles to tense, digestion to slow and pupils to dilate. These physiological responses give us the strength and focus to escape or to fight when faced with an acute threat. This once ensured the survival of our species when predators were a true threat. 

Today, when many think of “stress,” they think of something negative. Stress is not a pure evil though. The world we live in now may be filled with less literal predators, yes, but the “fight or flight” response to stress can still be useful. It can help us make good, productive decisions when faced with a deadline at work or school, and we often experience cognitive and emotional growth as a result of some stressful experiences as well. 

Some are better equipped to handle stress though. Temperament plays a role in how susceptible people are to stress. Most parents have probably observed that one child might be especially fussy by nature and need extra soothing, compared to another who is calmer and can more easily accept and feel comfort. If one does not handle stress well, it can manifest in a variety of ways physically, including headaches, stomach pain, sleep issues, regular illnesses, anxiety and depression. Chronic stress can trigger a secretion of cortisol, a stress hormone, which can cause heart disease, obesity and the suppression of one’s immune system. That’s why it’s imperative to find ways to both harness the power of stress and find ways to cope with and reduce stress levels when they become too high.

The holidays can be an especially stressful time for many people, from holiday shopping that becomes too much to handle, to travel that makes the holidays feel far from festive. 

Zahava Davidson, Head of the Division of Individual and Relational Psychotherapy at NorthShore, shares some ways to manage your stress levels during the holidays and beyond:

Regular exercise. Often the holidays become an excuse for letting a regular exercise routine fall by the wayside. Don’t do that again this year. You might have less time during the holidays, but make time for exercise. It’s a great stress-reducer and even a short walk each day can do wonders.

Make a list. Finding a better way to manage your time could help you avoid those skyrocketing stress levels altogether. Prioritize your schedule. Chances are, the big things are stressing you out. Which are most important? Which will take the most time? Acknowledge they need to be done, get them out of the way and then enjoy the holidays with your family. 

Eat a balanced diet. It’s all about taking care of yourself both mentally and physically. If your stress levels are high, you are more susceptible to illnesses, so you need to keep your body healthy too. Try to eat a balanced diet. Yes, this is important even during the holidays. Also consider limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption. 

Sleep! Start each day off right. Getting enough sleep each night makes handling stress much easier. When you’re tired, you are more likely to lose your temper or become easily agitated. When you’re well rested, you can better handle whatever the holidays might throw at you, and maybe even enjoy it. 

Ask for help. You don’t have to do everything on your own. You might be hosting the big meal or you might be hosting family at your house for the week, but that doesn’t mean you have to do all the work. Those who have a strong network of family and friends are better able to handle stress. Let your family and friends take some of the weight off your shoulders.

Try meditation and mindfulness. The holidays can leave some with the feeling that they don’t even have time to think. You do. Or you should make time for it. Find time to be alone with your thoughts. For an extra boost of stress relief, consider combining this time with a massage, aromatherapy, yoga or acupuncture to relax your body as well.

Acknowledge that holidays can trigger depression. If your family has recently lost a loved one, or certain relatives and friends will be out-of-town, realize that it’s normal to feel grief during the holidays. Allow yourself to feel those emotions, and seek support from community, religious or healthcare resources.

Stick to your budget. The cost of food, gifts, travel and entertaining during the holidays can create a financial burden that greatly adds to stress. Plan in advance how much money you can afford to spend, then stay committed to your budget. If your budget is small, create more affordable ways to celebrate such as exchanging homemade gifts or asking guests to bring a potluck dish.

How do you cope with the stress of the holidays?

Rediscovering your Happiness – Managing Depression

Thursday, February 28, 2013 3:26 PM comments (0)

Managing-DepressionIt’s one thing to occasionally feel down, unenergetic and tired out, especially given the busy lives so many of us lead. However, consistently experiencing feelings of sadness, exhaustion and anxiety to a point where it affects the rest of your life can be cause for concern.

Depression is a very common mental illness and impacts people in various ways. It is estimated that one in ten adults suffers from depression at some point during their lifetime.

Frederick Miller, MD, PhD, Psychiatrist at NorthShore, recognizes that living with depression can be a challenge. He offers the following tips for managing and coping with depression:

  • Don’t be afraid to seek help.  It may be hard to admit feelings of depression to others, but you shouldn’t have to go through it alone. Family members and friends may be able to help brighten your spirits, and encourage you to stay active and positive. It can also be helpful to talk with your physician, therapist or a support group for additional assistance.
  • Stay active. Exercise can help relieve stress and provide a positive boost to your emotional and physical health.
  • Keep a positive mental attitude. It's not just our experiences that influence our mood but how we interpret them. Are you prone to "personalizing," that is, taking blame for bad things that happen? If something runs amok, do you "catastrophize" and conclude that everything will always be doomed? You can actually train yourself to be more positive. Try journaling. Pick one event that generated negative feelings and force yourself to write down a more positive or at least balanced view of the situation. Over time, thinking more positively will become habit.
  • Seek out positive relationships. It may be hard to "reach out and touch someone" when you're feeling down but it can make a major difference. Call an old friend or send an email to a relative.
  • Find something meaningful to do. Helping others will make you feel good about yourself.
  • Consider getting a pet.
  • Plan a trip or to commit to a new hobby. Being goal-oriented helps to keep your spirits up.
  • Practice being mindful. Often, folks who are depressed spend too much time "in their heads." Take a walk and just "be." See how much you can notice using all of your senses: sight, sound, touch and taste.
  • Play some inspiring music.

What makes you happy? How to you manage feelings of sadness and/or depression?

Men’s Mental Health – Getting Support When Needed

Thursday, June 14, 2012 2:28 PM comments (0)

Men's Mental HealthNo matter what your sex, our lives are often stressful. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious between balancing work, societal pressures and our personal lives.

When it comes to talking with others about these pressures and the emotional impact they may have, men typically tend to keep to themselves. While many men may open up to close friends and family members, mental health issues and concerns frequently aren’t addressed during a visit to the doctor.

Robert Farra, PhD
, gives the following recommendations to men about how to maintain good mental health:

  • Learn to live consciously and deliberately. Avoid living on autopilot, “just going through the motions.”  Take a class on mindfulness so you can learn to appreciate each moment of your life.
  • Don’t brood about things. Share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust.
  • Consider the two rules of life:
    Rule # 1:  Don’t sweat the small stuff.
    Rule # 2:  It’s all small stuff!

Some of the most common mental health conditions suffered by men include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alcoholism/Problem drinking
  • Excessive stress

What do you do to help reduce stress and anxiety? Would you be comfortable talking to your physician about mental health issues?

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