Stress, other than during times of danger, is not our friend, and can lead to many health issues- from stomach troubles to colds, and pretty much everything in between. If chronic, it can cause major health problems including heart disease and a weakened immune system. It's all those chemicals, but specifically cortisol, released during the 'fight or flight' response to some environmental or social stressor, which can have a negative impact on our bodies, particularly if it remains in our bloodstream for prolonged periods of time.
More often than not, we create our own stress during the holidays by having unrealistic goals and expectations, of both ourselves and others. We rush around, frantically trying to figure out what gifts to buy for family, friends and coworkers, most of which won't be appreciated, and are more than likely unneeded. Getting nasty and mean-spirited when parking spaces become a premium at the malls, or trampling someone to death at a Walmart trying to get a bargain on Black Friday. Feeling obligated to go to all the parties and the feasts that we're invited to, we overindulge in unhealthy foods and drink, which leads to unwanted weight gain, and that extra tire, and I'm not talking about the one in the trunk of your car.
American consumerism, bolstered by a retail industry that encourages it- by now extending the Christmas season to way before Halloween- has become a major problem . We overspend and overeat, when we can least afford to. We get all tied up in the hype and commercialism, and we forget the true meaning of this time of year, and what the spirit of giving truly means. During simpler times, kids were happy with a couple of toys under the tree - a doll, legos maybe a bike; now if they don't have a truckload of gifts under that tree, including the latest X-Box, the kids go ballistic.
But, there are ways to handle all the stress that is part and parcel of this time of year, particularly those things you do have control over.
JUST SAY NO- Pick a few parties you want to go to and decline the others. With all the people that are invited to these shindigs, no-one is going to miss seeing you, believe me. Spend time with the people you enjoy, not the one's who cause you grief.
GIFT GIVING/LESS IS MORE- When it comes to gift giving, tell your family and friends you are not exchanging gifts this year. Or offer to give a gift of time. Offer to babysit one night for your brother, or pull the weeds at your parent's house. Tell your kids they are getting one nice present and one small gift, and that they have to choose some toys from their collection to give away to charity. And if you do decide to get a gift for an adult, rather than stressing about what to give them, why not donate to charity in that person's name. In fact, if you are having a party, suggest people do that instead of bringing you a gift. Opt out of the Secret Santa's. How often have you liked what you received, anyway?
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD: Instead of stressing over cooking a huge feast for a slew of people, eat out. Or, go simple and have a pot luck. Make sure everyone helps with the cleanup. If you go to a party, limit your alcohol and food intake, your body and waistline will thank you.
DON'T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE- I'm the queen of procrastination, but there's nothing that causes stress more than waiting until the last minute to do something, including any shopping you might have. So make your list, check it twice and head out for the shops with plenty of time. The closer to Christmas it gets, the fuller the parking lots will be and the nastier you and others will get. It's not worth the added stress.
DON'T FRET OVER THINGS YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER- If you can't find what you want, find a substitute or move on, cross it off your list. Nothing is worth fretting over, especially if you have no control over it, which is pretty much everything other than our opinions and how we react to the circumstances in our lives. According to Stoic philosopher Epictetus, to be happy we must know what is and isn't within our control. The only things we have control over are our opinions "and our impulses desires and aversions - in short whatever is our own doing." (Encheiridion C1). Wanting to control things that are not within our control can only cause unhappiness and stress: "Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well" (Encheiridion C8).
SLEEP/REST/MEDITATE/BREATHE- This is the time when our bodies and minds rejuvenate, heal, recuperate and recharge. Make sure you don't skimp. Get enough sleep at night, and nap or rest, if you can, even if it's to shut the mind down for a few minutes.
Meditation can also help with stress, as can deep breathing.
When you feel very stressed, take a deep, slow breath. Inhale fully, a long deep breath, through your nostrils. Fill the lungs. Hold for about 10-15 seconds and then exhale. As you exhale, think of all the stress flowing out of your body. Do that a few times.
HERBS/VITAMINS ETC- Instead of a cup of coffee, try a nice hot, relaxing, cup of chamomile tea. That should calm you down. Passion Flower, Oatstraw and Valerian are also calmatives. Ashwaghanda, is an Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) tonic which also has a calming effect. Siberian Ginseng enhances the immune function, strengthens the adrenal glands and helps the body adapt to stress. And don't forget the Vitamins and Minerals: B Vitamins are quickly depleted during times of stress, so shore up on your Bs. What the body doesn't use, it will eliminate. Stress also depletes Vitamin C, which supports the adrenal glands, a healthy immune system and inflammatory response. Stress also depletes magnesium, which is a very important anti-stress mineral that helps promote relaxation by helping the body utilize various antioxidants and vitamins. And for a mood enhancer, try Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids. Omega-3 is not produced in the body, so you have to get it from foods or supplements, and most diets are sorely lacking.
For more information on herbal remedies for stress check here , and here.
When taking herbs, please check to make sure you are not allergic to anything, and that you do research before combining or embarking on any herbal regimen.
Cross posted at Mind, Body Spirit.