Holiday Stress Series: How and Why to Reduce Stress
Happy Thanksgiving! Although this can be a joyful time of the year, the holidays can also bring added stress to our already busy, stress-filled lives. You may be feeling a lot of pressure to make the holidays special for kids or loved ones; you may have visits with extended family, bringing up past triggers; or there may be lots of tempting foods around making it challenging to stick to The Permanent Remission Diet. If you are recently through treatment, this added stress can put you over the edge and into overwhelm.
Stress greatly affects our health so it’s really important to learn how to manage it. That is why today I am starting the first of a six-part blog series on tips to manage stress over the holidays to help you stay on the Permanent Remission path.
Why worry about stress?
Unfortunately, many studies are finding that stress is at the root of most ailments, many of which lead to serious disease. Because stress takes a toll on your immune system, the result is increased odds of health problems. The common cold, weight gain, sleep problems, heart disease, and stomach issues are just a few of the ailments connected to stress.
And apparently, we in middle age are more stressed than anyone even without the added stress of the holidays. A recent Harvard University-Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-NPR poll of about 2500 people over 50, found that most had recently experienced a “great deal” of stress in the past month. This may be because at this age, we tend to experience job losses, illness (like cancer), death of a family member and let’s not forget teenagers, sometimes all happening at the same time! Add holiday stress and it can be a major hit to our immune system.
What happens in our body under stress?
When the body feels stress or anxiety, the adrenal system releases a hormone called cortisol, which coupled with adrenaline is great for the “fight or flight” response in an emergency stressful situation. However, that jolt of cortisol and adrenaline is supposed to be short lived and return to normal levels when the emergency is over.
The problem is that in our high-stress culture, daily stressors like traffic or disagreements with co-workers and/or family can create very little down-time for the adrenal system. When cortisol levels remain high and are not allowed to return to a normal level, there can be negative effects on your health.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many negative health effects to prolonged stress including, increased heart rate, increased blood sugar, suppressed immune system, digestive problems, skin conditions and poor memory function. For the sake of this post and our mission to create Permanent Remission, let’s focus on the suppressed immune system. We want to be boosting the immune system and its ability to fight any little abnormal cell that may be floating around, not suppressing it.
How does Stress Suppress The Immune System?
In his article “Stress and Disease: New Perspectives,” for the National Institutes of Health newsletter, “Word on Health,” Harrison Wein, Ph. D explains that stress affects the immune system when the body creates that cortisol stress response. Our other body systems are stopped until the stressful situation has passed. The immune system is one system that receives signals to slow down while cortisol is doing its job. With chronic stress, the immune system stays in low gear, which leaves the body vulnerable to infection and disease.
What do we do?
We need to take time to reduce stress throughout the day and even more so during the holidays so that our immune system cells can return to protecting our bodies. Over the next six weeks in this blog, I’ll be sharing tips for reducing stress during the holidays. Stay tuned and in the mean time, here’s a mini-tip for Thanksgiving festivities tomorrow:
Tonight before you go to bed, write down as many things as you can think of that you are grateful for. Then tomorrow share some or all of those things at the Thanksgiving meal. Perhaps ask others what they are thankful for. I know that being present to abundance in my life brings down my stress levels. Give it a try. Happy Thanksgiving!