Have a Happy, Stress-Free Holiday – Part 1: Knowing when you’re stressed

stressStress occurs when we face a real or perceived threat that forces our bodies to adapt in the face of increased demand.  Stress can be both good and bad.

Eustress (good stress) is short-term stress that acts as a motivational force and is often what we experience when meeting a deadline or studying for an exam.

Distress (bad stress) can be both short- and long-term and tends to affect us negatively.  We typically experience distress when we are confronted with a challenge that we can’t–or feel we can’t–cope with.  Causes of distress can be due to circumstances such as chronic illness, the death of a loved one, a car accident or job loss.

Many of us experience the burden of stress in different ways.  It can affect us cognitively, behaviourally, physically and emotionally.  It is important for us to tune into our bodies so that we can recognize when we’re stressed. Some examples of stress include1:

Cognitive symptoms Behavioural symptoms Physical symptoms Emotional symptoms
Memory problems
Inability to concentrate
Poor judgment
Pessimism
Anxious or racing thoughts
Constant worrying
Eating more or less
Sleep changes
Self isolation
Procrastination or neglecting responsibilities
Aches and pains
Diarrhea or constipation
Nausea, dizziness
Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
Loss of sex drive
Frequent colds
Moodiness
Irritability or short temper
Agitation, inability to relax
Feeling overwhelmed
Sense of loneliness and isolation
Depression or general unhappiness

What symptoms do you experience when you’re stressed?  Take a moment and fill in the following blanks

When I’m stressed my cognitive symptom(s) are: _________________________________________.

When I’m stressed my behavioural symptom(s)are: ______________________________________.

When I’m stressed my physical symptom(s) are: _________________________________________.

When I’m stressed my emotional symptom(s) are: ________________________________________.

Note these symptoms in the future when you’re overwhelmed.  Becoming aware of how your body experiences stress and learning to recognize your symptoms is the first step to dealing with stress healthily.  Only by becoming aware of our imbalances and the resulting discomfort, do we feel the need to change.

With increased holiday demands (gift shopping, being a gracious host, cooking feasts, attending multiple events), stress can build and really impact our health.  When we experience stress our body is thrown into sympathetic (fight or flight) mode which causes an increase of cortisol and adrenaline.  This then shuts down our parasympathetic system (rest and digest mode) resulting in2,3,4:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Reduced digestive function

When stress becomes chronic it can adversely affect our health placing us at risk for conditions such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Mental health issues (generalized anxiety, depression)
  • Diabetes and obesity
  • Inflammatory bowel issues
  • Chronic low functioning immunity leading to recurring bouts of colds/flus or infection

To prevent both the short term effects and the long-term health risks of holiday stress stay tuned for next week’s blog of the “Have a Happy Stress-Free Holiday” series.

Part 2: Control your stressors:  Creating change and avoiding over-indulgence (next week)

Part 3: Handling holiday stress

Part 4: Setting up for a stress-less new year

References:
1.Smith M, Segal R, Segal J. Stress Symptoms, Signs & Causes: The effects of stress overload and what you can do about it [internet]. 2013  Nov; Available from: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm
2.Mayo Clinic. Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behaviour. [internet]. 2013 Jun. [cited 2013 Dec 11]. Available from:http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-symptoms/SR00008_D
3.Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004 Jul; 130(4): 601-30.
4.Nakata A. Psychosocial Job Stress and Immunity: a systematic review. Methods Mol Biol. 2012; 934:39-75.
5.Marvar PJ, Harrison DG. Stress-dependent hypertension and the role of T lymphocytes. Exp Physiol. 2012 Nov; 97(11) 1161-7.
6.Yusuf S, et al. Effect of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with myocardial infarction in 52 countries (the INTERHEART study): case-control study. Lancet. 2004 Sep 11-17;364(9438):937-52.
7.Das S, O’Keefe JF. Behavioral cardiology: recognizing and addressing the profound impact of psychosocial stress on cardiovascular health. CurrAtheroscler Rep. 2006 Mar;8(2):111-8.
8.Heraclides A, Chandola T, Witte DR,  Brunner EJ. Psychosocial stress at work doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes in middle-aged women: evidence from the Whitehall 2 study. Diabetes Care. 2009 Dec;32(12):2230-5.
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