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Stress 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, LCSW, Head of the Division of Individual and Relational Psychotherapy at NorthShore, shares some ways to manage your stress levels during the holidays and beyond:
How do you cope with the stress of the holidays?