It’s that time of year when holiday music, ads for the best presents, and expectations of the “wonderful” holiday times are upon us. And how do many of us end up feeling? A little overwhelmed, facing hectic times with an already busy schedule, concerned with money expenditures, and wanting great holiday gatherings when the reality can sometimes emphasize unresolved family issues. Often we hear about and feel increased stress at this time of the year when we are looking forward to more joy, peace and loving feelings, also known as the holiday spirit.
So let’s look at that phenomena of STRESS—In 1936, Dr. Hans Selye (1907-1982), a physician and researcher, coined the term stress to mean a demand placed upon the body that causes it to adjust in some way. He also wondered about its connection to illness. Stress as he described it could be positive, eustress or negative, distress. This in turn could produce the fight or flight syndrome meaning that our bodies will react to what we perceive as extreme stress or danger by increases in heart rate, blood pressure, hormone level and muscle tension as well as decreasing other areas of our body, such as digestion. This worked well in prehistoric times when a fight or fleeing the situation was the best chance for survival. However, today, more of these reactions are caused by psychological situations such as work problems, marital discord, financial concerns, etc. which over time can lead to a state of chronic stress which can decrease our sense of well-being and possibly lead to a state of exhaustion and susceptibility to illness.
So as we face the holidays how can we increase our holiday spirit and manage our stress? If we follow a holistic model we need to look at the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of our being as a means to increase wellness.
- Do try to keep good nutrition and sleep habits. Although it may be tempting to let things slide this is a time when our body needs our help to maintain good habits such as whole foods(yes, that's usually foods with 1 ingredient when we can) and adequate rest (it’s hard to cope when we're sleep deprived).
- Find a healthy way to vent feelings- a talk with a good friend, writing our experiences in a journal, learning to breathe and stay with our feelings until they pass or taking a walk or exercising as a way to gain perspective.
- Tune into the things you say to yourself also referred to as self talk. How we view our experiences can contribute to or decrease our experience of stress.
- Include things in your life that have meaning and joy for you. Only you can determine what your values, dreams and hopes are and how you can aspire toward that path. And know that you being here makes a difference. One of my holiday traditions is watching “It's A Wonderful Life” which reminds me that we all touch others' lives in ways we may never know and also brings me back to how in the big picture of things even the everyday annoyances, like the broken knob on the staircase, can seem precious when we are really in touch with what life offers. This seems to me how we can increase holiday spirit --by finding ways that we access what is good, peaceful and loving inside us and extending it to others.
Jane Gilroy-Hunsecker, is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor who worked at Franco Psychological Associates, P.C.