Stress and the holidays seem to go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s the financial pressures of the season, encounters with family, loneliness at this time of year, or reminders of the past, the holidays seem to bring on an onslaught of stress. More people visit the dentist during the holidays, because they’re clenching their jaws and cracking or breaking teeth. Heart attacks are at an annual high in December and January, and stress is one of the main causes, along with increased alcohol consumption and meals high in salt and fat.
An article put out by Consumer Reports on Health outlines antidotes to stress, all of which improve both mood and physical health. Below are the three categories of ways to recover from stress.
The first category is laughter. Laughing changes the channel on a dark mood and has been proven to be good for you, too. Turns out that laughing can cause your arteries to expand, increasing your blood flow. On the flip side, stress causes your arteries to contract and restrict blood flow. Watching a funny movie is an easy way to give your heart a break.
Laughter can impact your immunity, as well. Studies have found that increased laughter is associated with reduced allergies, decreased inflammation and asthma symptoms, and increased levels of disease-fighting cells. Laughing can even reduce blood sugar and muscle pain.
So to get the holiday stress out of your system, surround yourself with funny people, go to a comedy club, rent funny movies, and try laughter yoga (a particular kind of yoga where laughter is at the heart of the practice).
Another option for reducing stress just requires a radio: mellow music. Playing mellow music has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate, two measures of stress. Singing can also have the same effect. So find a nice classical station or some oldies and let the music do the work for you.
Spiritual Connection and Mindfulness
Spirituality is also known to be a major stress-reducer. After all, more often than not, the focus during the December holidays is less on spirituality and more on the pressures and expectations of the season. Whether it is organized religion, yoga, or meditation, connecting with your spirituality can relieve the burden of stress.
One study found that those attending weekly services at a church or temple had a lower rate of death from heart disease. Mindfulness meditation is being shown in many studies to be exceptionally good for your body and mind. The list of benefits is long. Mindfulness meditation—when done 15 minutes every day—has been shown to combat stress in the following ways: reduce blood pressure, reduce heart rate, reduce muscle tension, reduce risk of heart disease, lift depression, ease chronic pain, and even help people with diabetes.
So whether you prefer to laugh, listen to music, or connect with your spirituality in a regular way, you will be giving your body and brain the gift of recovering from holiday stress.
© Copyright 2011 by Rachel Stein, LCSW, therapist in Northampton, Massachusetts. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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