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Self-Care and the Holidays: Making Time For Yourself

Tis the season to be…jolly? Right? That’s what the song says? Then why the heck are we all so stressed out!?! holiday stress

I was recently strolling through one of the area malls that was maxed out to the umph degree with Santa, jingle bells, twinkling lights, and, of course, EPIC CHRISTMAS SALES (I haven’t even had Thanksgiving turkey yet!) when I made this stark observation: Everybody around me looked miserable.

(Okay, so miserable may be a bit of an exaggeration) Regardless, while “Have Yourself a Merry Little Chrismtas” played through the speakers, there was a noticeable amount of stress in the air. Disgruntled parents toting tired children, pushy kiosk sales reps, people looking rushed yelling into their cell phones like, “Well, you’re the one who told me to head to the mall today and get this for him!” (yes, I heard that). The therapist in me started to think, “How many of these people are here today out of pure enjoyment?” Remember when shopping was a stress-buster? Remember when the holidays meant yummy comfort food with the ones we love? Singing carols hand-in-hand around a Christmas tree a-la “WhoVille”?

I’ve recently had the opportunity to present on stress & self-care at various agencies, offices, and health centers over the past few weeks, and the response really made me recognize just how may people neglect to take care of themselves during the holidays. Here’s why it’s so important to remember that the word “HOLIDAY” was once related to R&R:

1.) When you are stressed, you make yourself vulnerable to illness and fatigue. Stress triggers two hormones in the body, adrenaline and cortisol, the put your body in “fight or flight” mode. These hormones have an evolutionary purpose: Cavemen needed them to run from saber-tooth tigers (pretty stressful!). Your body gets the same reaction when you begrudgingly stand in line for a Black Friday sale or try to decide whether paying the bills or buying your loved ones gifts is more important (Pay your bills, folks). If this episode is “acute”, and you come down from the stress after a short amount of time, then no harm is really done (our bodies are okay with that and ready for it). BUT if EVERY DAY you find yourself standing in line for a Black Friday sale, your body has to constantly work to fuel your state of alarm, which neglects it’s ability to pay attention to other important parts of your body – like your immune system. I guess this is why colds and flus are quite prevalent during the holiday season!

2.) When you are stressed, you have less ability to control your emotions. It’s no suprise that people under stress are quicker to anger, frustrate, and annoy. Look around that Black Friday line – are people snapping at each other? Unnecessarily scolding their children? When we’re stressed, our brains feel taxed, leaving us less room to tolerate “the little things” that might not annoy us otherwise. In a time of “merriment”, we’re all a bunch of scrooges. This is probably the easiest thing to combat when we talk about stress.

3.) When you don’t take care of yourself, others around you are affected, too. I use the old saying, “Put your oxygen mask on first” when I present on this topic. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, what kind of example are you giving to others? In a room full of therapists I presented to, many agreed that they often feel pressure to take care of everyone else before taking time for themselves. But…wait… won’t that make you more stressed? Snappy towards your kids? And sick? And if you’re angry and sick…  what does that do to the relationship around you?

The good news is, despite stress being unavoidable, it’s a relatively easy demon to combat. SELF-CARE involves just that – giving yourself time (even moments a day) to regroup and attend to your needs so your brain & body get a chance to rewire. I, of course, promote movement & exercise as a means for rewiring the body (a chemical hormone called “GABA” is released in your body through movement that actually tells your brain to “CHILL OUT!!”), but there are many other things you can do that will add up to a less-stressed you:

Taking a stretch break at your desk, playing with your pet, reading to your kids, LAUGHING, listening to music, taking a lunch break, silencing your phone at night, watching some stupid reality TV show that makes your life seem better, cooking, sipping tea, reading… the list goes on and on. And all of these don’t take an epic amount of time (I like that word: epic). 

When you exercise, let alone do any of the activities about, the end result is a release in dopamine and serotonin into your brain. These are “happy chemicals” (see previous post on “When the Blues are Hard to Beat“) that tap into your pleasure center. It’s kind of like when the cavemen found a hole in the ground safe from the saber-tooth tigers and thought “Okay, I’m safe now” (right? exactly the same thing as coming home from a hard day and reading a book…).

I emplore you all to take care of yourselves this holiday season. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s not about how much you spend, how much you cook, how decorated your house is, etc. I hope that picture around the tree reflects a happy, healthy, dopamine-filled family 🙂

Oh, and if you go to the mall, how about a smile?

Happy Holiday Season, everyone!

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