Stress is a highly personal experience, as not all stress is the result of a major traumatic event. While we can all agree that certain occurrences such as car accidents or violent attacks and other major events are stressful, smaller and more personal events can affect us just as much over time.
When we experience stress the sympathetic nervous system jumps into action and our heart rate and breathing increases while adrenaline floods the bloodstream. Physiological changes include the release of epinephrine and cortisol production in order to prepare the individual to better cope with the situation. This reaction causes the well-known “fight-or-flight” response, and you may notice breathing becoming shallower, palms sweating and heart racing.
Short term, major traumatic events are what we call acute stress; they are significant events that spike our stress levels over a relatively short period of time. In acute stress, our sympathetic nervous system ups our respiration and heart rate, floods us with adrenaline, we deal with the stress and then we are able to calm down, returning to a normal state, called homeostasis.
Chronic stress, however, takes place over long periods of time and can bring on significant health concerns as we remain in the “fight-or-flight” state of hyper-readiness. Digestive disorders like acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), cardiovascular disease, insomnia, anxiety and depression can result from long term, chronic stress.
Stress Is Personal
Stress is also extremely personal. What one person considers very stressful others may not even bat an eye at. For example, for some people driving in city traffic is highly stressful while others do not think twice about it. For some, public speaking of any type brings on a major stress reaction that includes vomiting, while others have no problem speaking in front of thousands.
Now, Bring on the Holidays!
While the holiday season can be a great deal of fun and most of us enjoy it greatly, it can also be particularly stressful. Also, because the holiday season takes place over an extended period of time, the stress experienced from this time of year may become chronic, causing significant health concerns.
9 Reasons Why the Holidays May Cause Stress for People
- Stressful family gatherings
- Stressful office gatherings
- Scheduling difficulties, as we are all so busy
- Coping with loneliness for those who do not have close family or friends nearby
- Lack of money for gifts or entertaining
- Stress over entertaining as we try to make things perfect
- Seasonal Affective Disorder from diminished sunlight during the winter months – 10% of people suffer from this condition
- Unwanted weight gain from all the holiday parties and treats
- Social pressure to “enjoy the holidays”
Signs of Stress
Signs and symptoms that stress has been taking a toll on you include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased appetite
- Digestive disorders like diarrhea or acid reflux
- An increase in colds or flu
- An increase in drinking alcohol
In fact, experts warn that increased alcohol consumption during the holiday season may be one of the major signs of stress, anxiety or depression.
3 Ways to Reduce Stress
There are many things that can be done to reduce stress, allowing us to return to a state of relaxation.
- social activities
- massage therapy
Physical exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. Even a 30-minute walk every day can significantly reduce stress levels. Exercise has been shown to improve sleep significantly as well.
Social interaction has been shown to significantly reduce stress levels and improve the ability to manage stress.
Massage therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, reduce pain and improve depression in those who receive regular massage. Massage therapy activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s “rest and digest” actions, allowing the body to recover, digest food and make repairs to injuries. The heart rate is decreased and breathing becomes easier, reducing feelings of anxiety and returning the body to the state of homeostasis.
Studies Support Massage Therapy Can Effectively Reduce Stress
In fact, in a review of studies on the use of massage therapy for the reduction of stress, both single treatments and multiple treatments of massage therapy, consistently reduced salivary cortisol and heart rate. Another study showed that staff who received 20 minutes of massage two times per week for eight weeks reported lower levels of anxiety and sleep disturbances, along with decreased blood pressure and heart rates. In fact, in a meta-study of over 37 studies on the effects of massage therapy on stress – significant and immediate improvements where demonstrated time and time again.
Massage therapy is a wonderful, non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical method of reducing stress and anxiety that has been proven effective against both acute and chronic stress. Since massage therapy is so effective, it is not only a great way to manage our own holiday stress, but makes a nice gift for those special people in our lives.