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?

The Importance of Sleep to a Healthier You

Friday, May 24, 2013 10:48 AM comments (0)

sleepThe importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated and not getting enough can lead to more than simply waking up on the wrong side of the bed.  Prolonged sleep deprivation can raise your risk for serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Sleep isn’t a waste of time; it’s an investment in your health.

The benefits of sleep are many. According to Thomas Freedom, MD, Neurologist and Program Director of Sleep Medicine at NorthShore, a good night’s rest can improve:

  • Your smarts. Sleep is essential to critical thinking and learning. Losing out a night’s rest impairs these processes, affecting attention span, problem-solving skills and alertness. Prolonged sleep deprivation takes a toll on long-term memory, too. It’s during your deepest sleep that the brain does its housekeeping, storing and consolidating learned information and long-term memories.
  • Your happiness. One sleepless night is depressing but multiple sleepless nights might be a symptom of depression. Insomnia and sleep disorders are strongly linked to depression and prolonged sleep deprivation can aggravate already existing symptoms of depression. Studies have shown that people diagnosed with depression were far more likely to sleep less than six hours a night.
  • Your looks. It turns out the fountain of youth isn’t a fountain at all. The key to healthy, youthful skin is plenty of rest. When you don’t get enough sleep, the body releases increased amounts of the stress hormone cortisol and excess cortisol can break down skin collagen— the protein responsible for supple, line-free skin. 
  • Your health. Chronic sleep deprivation is a contributing factor in a number of serious health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Those who regularly fail to get enough sleep are at a higher risk for heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Lack of sleep can also add to your waistline. Sleep loss is linked in an increase in appetite and cravings for high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods.
  • Your sex life. If the mood never strikes, your sleep schedule could be to blame. Sleep-deprived men and women often report less interest in sex. Lack of sleep leads to lower energy levels, higher stress levels and fatigue, which all have a negative effect on libido. To spend more time in the sack, spend more time in bed.

Remember that the amount of sleep required varies with each individual, but most adults need approximately 7-8 hours a night. 

Do you think you get enough sleep each night? Do you make sleep a priority?

 

Safe Infant Sleeping & Preventing SIDS

Friday, October 19, 2012 11:46 AM comments (0)

It can often be a relief when you finally get your infant down to sleep for the night (or even just a couple of hours!). A parent's worst nightmare is learning that your baby stopped breathing in his or her sleep. 

Although rare, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) can happen even when all the right safety measures are practiced. The exact cause of SIDS is unknown and there often isn't much that can be done in advance to avoid it. SIDS is most common in infants less than six months of age.

Even though there may not be much that can be done to avoid SIDS, it is important for parents and caregivers to practice bedroom safety measures to reduce the odds of other injuries or problems. William MacKendrick, MD, Neonatologist at NorthShore, provides the following recommendations for putting an infant to bed safely:

  • Place your baby on his or her back in the crib.
  • Use a firm mattress and don't place anything other than your infant in the crib. All toys, sheets, blankets, pillows and other materials should stay out of the crib as they can be unsafe and hazardous. Crib bumpers are also not recommended.
  • Keep your baby away from smoke. If you smoke, don't do so in the house or car. Fumes from smoking can increase a baby's risk for breathing problems.
  • Avoid co-sleeping (sleeping in the same bed) with your infant.

How do you promote safe sleeping conditions for your baby?

Drowsy Driving – Importance of Driving When Alert

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 8:31 AM comments (0)

Drowsy-DrivingYou are getting sleepy, very sleepy. All hypnosis aside, hopefully when your eyelids get heavy, you yawn uncontrollably and your head begins to nod up and down, you are not behind the wheel of a car.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll, a surprising 60 percent of Americans have felt sleepy and drowsy when driving. The reasons are many: you’ve had a long day at work, you’re powering through exits on a road trip to make it to your final destination faster or you’re driving in the evening. No matter what the reason, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence,and puts both you and others at serious risk.

Neil Freedman, MD, Sleep Medicine specialist at NorthShore, offers his insights on how to stay alert at the wheel and avoid injury:

  • Know the risks for drowsy driving. While everyone is at risk for driving while sleepy due to sleep deprivation, there are certain risk factors and groups of individuals who are at increased risk for sleep-related accidents. Accidents related to drowsy driving are more common in younger individuals (teens and early 20’s); those with untreated sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea; individuals with medical disorders that result in sleep disruption such as chronic pain syndromes, congestive heart failure and COPD; those taking medications that may result in, or enhance the effects of, sleepiness (antihistamines, certain types of pain medications and some classes of antidepressants); and those employed in certain occupations that lead to sleep loss such as shift workers.

    Individuals should also avoid driving in the late evening and in the early morning hours, as this is the time period when our circadian clocks increase our drive for sleep.

  • Know the signs of sleepiness. All individuals who get into automobile accidents due to sleep loss or excessive sleepiness have symptoms long before their accident occurs. It is important to recognize the signs of excessive sleepiness and take action to avoid sleep-related accidents. Common symptoms that are associated with drowsy driving include:
       -   Yawning
       -   Difficulty keeping your eyes open
       -   Difficulty remembering where you have been driving for the last several
           minutes
       -   Ending up too close to the car in front of you
       -   Missing road signs and driving past your turn or exit
       -   Any drifting such as into other lanes, onto the rumble strip or shoulder
           on the side of the road

If you exhibit any of these symptoms while driving or know that you are too tired to drive prior to getting into the car, you should either not get behind the wheel, or pull over to the side of the road or to a rest stop.

  • Prevent sleep-related accidents prior to driving. In addition to pulling over and not driving when you are obviously tired, recommendations to prevent sleepiness-related accidents include:
       -   Get a full night of sleep prior to driving.
       -   Avoid driving late at night or in the early morning hours.
       -   Share the driving with someone else on a long trip.
       -   Avoid sedating medications prior to and while driving.
       -   Pull over and take a nap when you are too tired.
       -   Use caffeine for short-term improvement in alertness. (Importantly,
           caffeine only improves alertness temporarily and is not a substitute for
           adequate amounts of sleep.)

Have you ever been too sleepy to be driving? What do you do to stay alert behind the wheel?

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Monday, January 16, 2012 8:22 AM comments (0)

More than 30 percent of working Americans report less than six hours of sleep a night.Sleep

Studies show that regularly sleeping less than six to seven hours a night may be associated with:

  • Decreased performance on the job
  • A higher risk of car accidents
  • An increased risk of cardiovascular disease, colon polyps, and metabolic problems
  • An increased risk of mortality


A common myth is that people can make up for a lack of sleep by sleeping longer on the weekends. Yet according to Cathy Goldstein, MD, Neurologist and expert in sleep medicine at NorthShore, the body does not have the ability to catch up or make up for chronic sleep deprivation.

Dr. Goldstein offers the following tips for getting a good night’s sleep:

  • Be vigilant about getting enough sleep.
  • For shift workers or those who are forced to sleep on what would normally be waking hours, use bright light therapy or over-the-counter melatonin supplements. 
  • Leave electronics like laptops and BlackBerry devices out of the bedroom.
  • Avoid exercise, heavy meals and alcohol in the hours before bedtime. 
  • Keep the bedroom cool and dark during the night.

Patients with actual sleep disorders like sleep apnea are urged to talk to their physician and undergo a sleep study for diagnosis and treatment.

How many hours of sleep do you typically get a night? What do you do to ensure a good night’s sleep?

Tags: sleep
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