From the week before Thanksgiving until January 2nd, every day becomes more and more stressful and overwhelming for the majority of people in the United States, and from December 1st to January 2nd for the rest to the world; this is due to Holiday Stress. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Three Kings Day, Day of Enlightenment, or you are celebrating the New Year, this time of the year causes more stress and more hospitalization than any other time of the year.
Why? Is it the lack of sunlight, you ask? To some degree this is true. Is it the feeling of being overwhelmed or doing too many tasks in a short period of time? That too has a lot to do with it. So what causes Holiday Stress? To better understand Holiday Stress is to understand what is Stress.
Stress is your body and/or mind’s reaction to perceived danger, whether from internal stressors or external stressors.
- External Stressors include physical conditions, such as an illness from an injury like a concussion or stroke, chronic pain, lack of sleep, or reaction to hot or cold temperature. Other external stressors include traffic jams, long commutes, a computer crash, driving in inclement weather, dealing with difficult people, and financial worries/issues, like the ability to pay the bills each month.
- Internal Stressors come from within. These stressors come from your personal expectations, perceptions, goals and standards. Trying to be perfect or holding yourself and/or others to unreasonable expectations. Internal stressors can also be physical, such as a reaction to hot flashes, an infection or inflammation like Lyme Disease, or psychological issues.
- Internal stressors determine how you cope and handle external stressors. When you’re internally stressed, even the slightest external stressor like being in a long grocery store line or being couple of minutes late for a meeting might ruin your day.
- External and Internal Stressors can also come from having a chronic illness or not feeling well, along with working long hours, family commitments and social activities.
- Stress can be acute, such as immediate threat, or losing your job or your home during the holiday season. You want to celebrate, yet you feel overwhelmed with fear, despair, and helplessness. Psychologically, it causes the feelings of being anxious, which are different than the feelings of anxiety in an Anxiety Disorder. If you have an Anxiety Disorder, stress, regardless of the cause, only heightens your symptoms of Anxiety Disorder.
Acute and Chronic Stress
- Stress can be chronic, such as you are a caregiver to a loved one with a physical and/or mental disability, along with being a caregiver to elderly, small children, while working two jobs, where some of the personnel at one are hard to get along with. The psychological part of chronic stress is feeling depressed. Again, this feeling of being depressed is different than the biochemical and/or hormonal Clinical Depression. Chronic stress can and does heighten the symptoms of Clinical Depression, as does the lack of sunlight during the winter, which is called Seasonal Affective Disorder.
- Stress can be both chronic and acute at the same time, such as you have been diagnosed with Cancer and are in treatment, and at the same time you found out that your daughter just died and you now are the sole guardian of a 17 month old.
- Read more about Stress and its effects on our Stress Page.
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season brings added stressors. With more family and social commitments, longer lines in stores, financial spending and gift giving… let’s not forgot it’s cold/flu season…. all of this packed into a short amount of time can leave you feeling tired, drained and overwhelmed affecting your ability to respond rather than react.
Unhealthy Holiday Lifestyles Make Symptoms Worse
At this time of the year, we consume more sugar and alcohol than probably any other time, including July 4th. You cannot go anywhere without someone offering you a cookie, cake, eggnog, wine, beer, or a hot toddy on a cold winter’s night. It is the tradition of putting out cookies for Santa. If you are one of the millions or people who try to resolve your acute or chronic stress with alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and overeating, you might feel some comfort or relief at the moment, but the long term effect only compounds the physiologic effects of stress itself. This becomes a vicious cycle, causing your stress response to be only more heightened, causing greater sleep problems and an increase in drug and alcohol abuse. Sugar is a major factor that increases your stress response, especially if you have had some form of brain injury such as a concussion, stroke, or brain surgery.
With all your running around shopping, taking care of your loved-ones, and hours of working and getting very little sleep, you are probably drinking four or five cups of coffee to keep you going. This much coffee can actually cause changes in blood pressure and stress hormones levels, similar to those produced in chronic stress.
Methods of Coping with Holiday Stress
- Sleep: It is important to get 7-8 hours of restorative sleep.
- The Serenity Prayer says to have the courage to know what you can change and what you cannot, and to know the difference. You cannot change if you are too reactive or sensitive. You may not be able to change how you react, but you can change how you respond to a situation.
- Make a list and check it twice. Spend 5-10 minutes generating a list of everything you need to do. Break the list into daily, weekly and future tasks. Then, try dividing the list by categories: medical, errands, gifts, etc.
- Up until your shopping is done and all your responsibilities are checked off, avoid consuming sugar, coffee, and any form of alcohol. Eat Brain Healthy foods to avoid brain fog, sugar crashes, and irritability. If you need ideas, check Dr. Diane’s Brain Heath Recipes.
- Take breaks every 30-45 minutes or when feeling / exhibiting fatigue.
- Create a schedule and try to stick with it. Include a balance of activities such as opportunities for home tasks, errands, exercise and social outlets. Modify it throughout the day based on unplanned for interruptions. Move incomplete items to the next day’s list.
- Set alarms such as a kitchen timer or on a cell phone to help stay on track with your tasks.
- Sit down and look at your responsibilities and make a list of things you absolutely need, not WANT but, NEED to do, and what responsibilities you can share with someone else.
- Make a budget and stick to it: Taking money from your retirement account or not paying your electric bill to buy gifts is NOT good money management. Look at what you can afford without running up a huge credit card bill that you can’t afford. The children may want 4 toys, however at the expense of your health, it is not worth it.
- Take time for yourself! Practice self-care.
- Be kind to yourself. All the above mentioned strategies take time, discipline and awareness of what needs to be done. If still feeling overwhelmed or unable to complete your list, consider enlisting support from a friend or professional.
- Learn more about Stress Treatments and shop our Stress Treatment Products , such as CES Device. And during this holiday season, we are including a free Hemi-Sync CD with the purchase of a CES device to help, too!
An Act of Kindness Can Change the World!
Take a moment to open a door or say thank you. If you are alone this holiday, you can invite friends over or go to a homeless shelter. If you are a good singer or musician, you can go to your nearby hospital and sing or play holiday music. There are many things we cannot change, however, you can be the Master of your Ship, the Caption of your Fate. Love, Kindness, Compassion, and Respect can and will make a big difference this Holiday Season.