It’s a pretty picture isn’t it? And a great representation of the idea that many of us have had in our minds about what the holidays should be. Full of the most amazing memories with friends and family and love. Some are lucky to have that. Many are not. Hence, food is not the only contributor to poor holiday health
I don’t know if you have a favorite holiday movie
The one that I watch every year around Thanksgiving is called Home for the Holidays, starring Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr, Annette Bancroft, and a few others that really add to the cast of characters. It might be a little more representative of what many experience during the holidays. I think the general consensus can be expressed by Anne Bancroft’s character, Adele, when she says “I’m giving thanks that we don’t have to go through this for another year. Except we do, because those bastards went and put Christmas right in the middle, just to punish us.”
The sad reality is that the holidays can be more stress than fun and the affect of stress on our health is sorely underrated. People talk about it but the affects of stress and the body are not as well understood they should be.
Our bodies were created to handle short term stress
In a short term stress response, our adrenals start to work harder pumping out more adrenaline increasing cortisol production in the body. (Cortisol does wonderful things when we need it but it is actually a catabolic steroidal hormone that will begin to break the body down when it becomes the chronic state in the body, when it is no longer in a balanced state.) What are those wonderful things that cortisol can do? Blood sugar increases and the heart pumps harder. The body also turns down the function of the systems that are not needed in a short term stress response like the immune system, the digestive system, and the production of sex hormones. So, if we had to run from a tiger attack or defend a village from invaders, all energy and effort within the body is targeted to the most important functions to give us a greater opportunity for success. Essentially, we won’t be at our best if we are hungry, or trying to digest food we have already eaten, or being sidetracked by the raging hormones. The body truly is a wonderful thing.
Problem is that we don’t have that kind of short term stress so much anymore. Most of our stress is long term meaning we are starting to struggle with chronic issues and the addition of inflammation in the body. It contributes to chronic illness, autoimmune, heart disease, diabetes and so much more. And the holidays can just add to the stress most are already experiencing, very much exacerbating the side effects of stress and the symptoms experienced with illness.
So, what do you do to combat the affects of stress?
Well, you need a new tool kit with some new skills because the old skills are likely not working. You probably can’t refuse to participate without creating a barrage of additional aggravation, so the goal is to learn to participate while remaining in your very happy place as much as possible. It is a mindset that you are looking to create and stay within. The goal is to not give any of the regular annoyances (most likely people) free rent in your head. Not sure if you completely understand what I mean by that so let me explain further. Some of the people that push your buttons have likely been doing it so long and are so socially inept that they don’t even understand that they are doing it. Some of them, do it for the rise that they get when they absolutely chap your ass. Yes, they do. Every time you get annoyed by their behavior, or what they say, you are essentially giving them free rent in your head. Yep. It doesn’t bother them, it only bothers you. And all of that bothering raises your stress levels.
As I said, the goal is to not let them get you to that place. How do you do that? I’ve listed some tips below to help with that a little bit. None of the tips are going to work if you don’t mentally decide that you are going to change the outcome of this holiday gathering from your perspective. That is your first step. All of the following will help you do that.
- Breathe. Start a routine of breathing every morning for 10 minutes. Deep diaphragmatic breathing. Meaning you are breathing into your stomach. And make them slow breaths. This type of breathing does a wonderful job of lowering your cortisol levels. Get your body used to it and take advantage of it. It allows for a much better handling of stress. And if you have to step into a closet, or bathroom to do this at the gathering, go do it.
- Get lots of sleep so that you are refreshed, especially the night of the big day. You don’t want to be worn out before you have to go and handle the onslaught.
- Remind yourself of all the positive things you are getting out of seeing everyone instead of focusing on the negatives. There has to be people that you enjoy there, give them your time and attention. What is going on with everyone else doesn’t matter and isn’t worth your time.
- Go out for a walk in the middle of the gathering to get some fresh air. Nature does an amazing job at combating stress and changing one’s perspective.
- Limit your time there as much as possible. Determine ahead of time how long that will be, make your excuses and leave as planned. Get out before it drives you crazy.
- Don’t overdo the unhealthy foods, they will just add to the affects of the stress by increasing blood sugar further.
- Have an interference plan in place so when Uncle Harold is visibly beginning to push your buttons, a trusted family member intervenes to save the day.
- When its time to go, congratulate yourself on a job well done, you made it through another Holiday.