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?

Discovering a New Normal: Living with Multiple Sclerosis

Thursday, March 28, 2013 9:45 AM comments (0)

MSThe diagnosis can be hard and may leave you wondering if you’ll ever be able to return to your regular activities. Not everyone with multiple sclerosis (MS) experiences the same symptoms—ranging from fatigue, numbness, loss of balance and coordination, to speech or muscle problems—and most people with this disease do not suffer paralysis or become severely disabled.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, more than 2.1 million people in the world are affected by MS. Given that in many cases the signs of MS can be difficult to detect, it’s hard to know exactly how many in the United States are impacted by the condition.

We do know that for those who do have MS, the journey through the disease can be very debilitating. Zulma Hernandez-Peraza, MD, neurologist at NorthShore, shares her advice on how to cope with the diagnosis and adapt your life accordingly:

  • Don’t lose hope and stay stress free. As hard as it may be, it’s best to take each day at a time. Try not to dwell on the unknown and uncertainity. Unnecessary stress can aggravate some of your MS symptoms, so be sure to take time to relax and unwind.
  • Get moving. Staying active and engaging in moderate activities and stretching can be very helpful. Be sure to discuss the best workout regimen with your physician.
  • Eat right. It’s important to keep your body healthy, as this will help prevent other illnesses and keep up your strength. You’ll want to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and foods rich in fiber.
  • Be yourself. Don’t let your condition get you down. As best as you can, try to stay involved and social. Keep up with your hobbies, family and friends. Not only will this keep your support network in place but it will also help keep your spirits up.

Do you know someone living with MS?

Enjoying the Holiday Season: Managing and Reducing Stress

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 9:16 AM comments (0)

Holiday-stressThe holiday season is often an exciting and much anticipated time of year. This season—for all its fun and festivities—often comes with long lines, burdensome traffic, inclement weather and various pressures leaving you to feel stressed out and overwhelmed.

For many of us the holidays are nerve-wracking.  Some attribute the stress to having to spend time with family, travel and excessive spending.  But, in reality, the holidays are difficult because our self-talk, that never-ending commentary going on in our heads that manages to rob us of joy and happiness.  Below are three habits you can practice before, during and after family gatherings that will help with the process.  Remember, it's not that people and situations make us feel badly, it's our self-talk about people and situations that cause our negative emotions.

Robert Farra, PhD, Psychologist at NorthShore, provides the following strategies to help make the holidays truly merry:

  1. Practice non-judging.  Evaluation often makes our experiences less than enjoyable. Judging is labeling or evaluating something as good or bad, as valuable or not, as worthwhile or worthless. Judging sees the world as black or white, good or bad.  Harshly judging self and others is for many of us an extremely bad habit. Henry James wrote, “Three things in life are important: The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and third is to be kind.”  We don’t know the circumstances behind the person or thing we are judging including ourselves. Give your family, your friends and yourself a break.  Practice non-judging.

  2. Practice patience.  Becoming impatient with self and others is a destructive habit.  If you need to learn how to practice patience in preparation for the holidays, I recommend you go to any large grocery store between the hours of 5 to 7 p.m.  Buy a few items and consciously choose to wait in the longest line.  Be present in the moment and notice how your mind starts creating misery for you as you wait.  Practice patience.  I know, you could move much faster than the clerk who, according to you, is moving in slow motion.  But that’s not the point.  Becoming irritated about something over which you have no control is fruitless.  As you reach the conveyer belt, excuse yourself and choose the next longest line.  Repeat until you are able to relax and enjoy the moment.

  3. Practice gratitude. Focus on the wonderful people in your life.  Consciously think about how grateful you are for them.  No they are not perfect!  But, neither are you!   Consider there are people and things for which you can be grateful in adversity as well as those times everything seems to be going smoothly.

Do you get stressed out during the holidays? What do you do to reduce it?

Extreme Stress – How to Handle and Overcome Anxiety

Monday, November 26, 2012 10:47 AM comments (0)

At one time or another, whether it’s because of work, family or social situations, almost everyone may feel anxious or stressed out. While these feelings are normal and common, when they begin to impact your daily activities and relationships it may be something that requires attention and/or medical help.

Anxiety may trigger intense negative thoughts and feelings, panic attacks and withdrawal from usual activities. The most common types of stressors that bring people in for treatment include: social stress, environmental stress, physical stress and the stress associated with the way we perceive our ability to handle these stressors. 

A common question asked by those who seek treatment for anxiety is: Will I ever feel normal again? Bethany Price, PhD, Psychologist with NorthShore, encourages her patients to follow three steps to overcome their anxiety and return to a more “normal” lifestyle:

  • Recognize that it is normal to experience stress and anxiety. Determine which stressors that trigger these emotions can be resolved and which may need to be accepted.
  • Examine the ways that your thoughts are distorted by learning to recognize how problems tend to be magnified and then correct this faulty way of thinking. 
  • Develop a plan to reengage yourself in activities that have been avoided.  With support and guidance, individuals often find that they are even better prepared to handle future stress.   

Are you easily stressed? How do you overcome it?

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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