Have you noticed how some people behave during the holiday season? Maybe it’s just me, but the “most wonderful time of the year” seems to create a certain amount of chaos. We find ourselves here every year. It’s not a big surprise when the calendar moves through its 12 unit sequence, but somehow that 12th unit seems to come faster each time. And with that 12th unit, commonly known as December, a frenzy of predictable events is set in motion.
Stores and retailers seem to get a little more jump start each year. Christmas things begin to appear before Halloween things disappear. In fact, this year many retailers will allow you to get a head start on Black Friday by being open on Thanksgiving. Great news, huh? Soon, if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself swept up in a flurry of holiday madness that is tough to tame. The results for your health and well-being can be challenging to say the least.
The stress that accompanies the year end always leaves a mark. Even if the holiday season is your favorite time of year, you’ll likely be subjecting yourself to some fairly predictable things. Many of us will be sleeping less, spending more, eating more sugar, consuming more caffeine and alcohol, and drinking less water. We’ll see it like a marathon of insanity, promising to clean it up for our New Year’s resolution. Aside from these physical stresses, we’ll also rewind the tape on loved ones and years past, hang out with folks we may or may not like, attempt to divide our time between blended families, or feel guilty for not doing so, and wish we were (or weren’t) home for a white Christmas.
How Stress Works
The physiology of stress is very predictable, too. Imagine, for a minute, that you’ve just been cut off in traffic. A near-miss accident on the interstate is a great trigger for a stress response. Immediate changes in heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, blood cholesterol, adrenaline, cortisol, and heightened sensitivity happen automatically. In the same instant digestion is suppressed, as is the immune system, memory and sex drive. These are lesser needs in the moment and the body automatically puts them on the back burner to focus on getting us out of the perceived danger of a near-miss. It’s called “fight or flight” physiology and it’s the perfect response to immediate danger. It should last minutes then, when the perceived danger is over, the nervous system says, “Let’s turn this ship around.” Normal healthy nervous system function then begins restoring all things back to appropriate levels of function. This is known as homeostasis.
The stress/fight or flight response is not, however, meant to be a lifestyle. Long term, chronic stress doesn’t just change your holiday season, it is driving the leading causes of death in our country. Doesn’t it make sense that leaving your heart in chronic overdrive might lead to heart disease? If your immune system was chronically suppressed, would cancer cells start winning? Digestive suppression is a great reason to feel like you need a purple pill, which makes no sense if acid production is actually being suppressed. And sex drive? “Not tonight, I have a headache.” No, really. I have a lifestyle-induced headache.
So, how can we offset the holiday chaos?
A mindset of gratitude, appreciation and abundance Let’s start with what you actually have control of… your thoughts. A mindset of guilt and inadequacy is a sure-fire way to start the stress response. Dwelling on the past and focusing on what you don’t have keeps this fire burning. The opposite of that might be thanks for all you have and the awareness that you’re fully equipped for changing your perspective on the season is a great start.
Limit your intake of sugar. Sugar actually fuels the stress response. You’ll crave the carbs to feed the fight or flight. Remember, sugar that isn’t burned is converted and stored as fat. You’ll start the New Year needing bigger pants and a new gym membership.
Go to bed a half hour earlier. Sleep deprivation is a never ending nightmare. You can’t make it up later, you can only wish to. Sleep deprivation also fuels the stress response.
Just add water. Add a glass in the morning, afternoon and evening. If you think you’re staying hydrated, add 3 glasses anyway. Water flushes the crud out, fades fatigue, and reduces pain.
Cut coffee and booze in half. Yep, that’s what the doctor ordered. You’ll thank me later.
Don’t spend what you don’t have. Period. Credit card debt is not our friend. Put a limit on what you do and let friends and family know you’re getting reasonable this year. It’s not about the gifts anyway.
Get your spine checked. Guess where your nervous system lives? Science now views the spine as the breaker box to your body. It governs and resets the stress response. Find a chiropractor that focuses on making sure the circuits are all on. It’s what they do.
Wrap it with a bow
There you go. The bottom line is just because it’s always been a certain way doesn’t mean it has to always be that way. Make a commitment to enjoy the season, within reason, and use some of the down time to plan for the coming year. Take time to share your gratitude and appreciation and know that the best gift you can give to anyone is a happier, healthier you.