Stress is our body’s natural reaction to protect ourselves from dangers. Our bodies are hard-wired to react to stress in ways meant to protect us against threats or other aggressors and most of us know this as the fight-or-flight reaction. Stress is how the brain and body respond to danger and it can actually be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger. But when stress lasts for a long time, it can be detrimental to your health. One thing to note is that it is not abnormal to feel stress, as everyone experiences it from time to time, but there are different types of stress—all of which if persistent, carry physical and mental health risks.
Stress during the Holidays
According to stress.org, recent polls show that 69% of people say they are stressed by the feeling of having a lack of time or a lack of money. And over 50% are stressed about the pressure to give or get gifts. And a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) study showed that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse.
It is widely known that the holidays bring not only family and friends together, but stressful times, lack of quality sleep, and unhealthy foods. There is so much to do, with planning gatherings, shopping for gifts, financial worries, planning meals, and travel arrangements on our plates, we neglect to take care of ourselves. In order to experience a stress-free holiday season, you first must create and set boundaries with regard to your overall goals and expectations. It is helpful to remember that the Holidays are about family and friends, spending time together and making memories, not about the gifts and the food.
It is also common for many people to get into even deeper debt during the Christmas season. The debt that you accumulate, will last much longer than the holiday season, and as a result, so will the stress. Scale back on how much you spend on gifts, decorations, or fancy foods, and remember that enjoying time with family or friends, is what matters most.
Signs of Stress
Stress affects our bodies, more than we know. Stress can have serious and lasting effects on your cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems, so it is best to try and mitigate stress if you can.
Some examples of the effects stress have on our bodies are:
- Frequent aches and pains
- Lack of energy or focus
- Sexual problems
- Stiff jaw or neck
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Upset stomach
- Use of alcohol or drugs to relax
- Weight loss or gain
- Social withdrawal
- Outbursts of anger or frustration
Often, signs of excessive stress are ignored, and many people end up in the urgent care or emergency department due to symptoms. Before that happens, it is important to identify the signs and symptoms of stress and take steps to mitigate those. Some things that you can do to lower or relieve your stress are getting exercise, spending time with those you care about, self-care like getting a massage or spa treatment, taking time for your hobbies, and making sure to sleep well and eat a healthy diet.
You may not know that watching television, spending a lot of time on the internet, or playing video games, can increase your stress over the long term, so it is a good idea to not depend on those activities to help manage stress. Avoiding tobacco use, excess caffeine, alcohol, and the use of illegal substances are also good steps to take. Learning to manage stress can be great and the rewards can be: peace of mind, less stress and anxiety, improved quality of life, improvement in health conditions such as high blood pressure, better focus, better relationships, and maybe even a longer, healthier life.
If you feel that you need help in managing stress or you are feeling too overwhelmed, talking to a counselor or therapist may be the way to go. The providers at Med First can refer you to someone that can help, as well as address current health issues, so don’t hold off on making an appointment. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and Med First is here to help you in any way you need.