surviving holiday stress“Stress is an alarm clock that lets you know you’re attached to something that’s not true for you.” – Byron Katie

As a run up to the holidays, doesn’t it seem like everyone’s rushing around trying to cram too much into too little time? Crazed to find a parking space in an overcrowded lot, racing to get into the elevator before the door closes or hitting the door-close button so no one else can get in, exhibiting uncharitable, rude and potentially unhealthy behavior when trying to snatch the last sale item and so much more are all signs of stressed-out individuals.

Is it any wonder the commercials for antacids and headache pills proliferate this time of year? But what about really acknowledging you’re stressed and doing something about it? Here are telltale signs to pay attention to:

Physical Symptoms

The body is incredibly sensitive to stress and will display the effects of this potentially-toxic emotion. Some of the more readily-identifiable physical stress signs include:

  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Pain or tension in the muscles
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Increased or decreased sex drive
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Tiredness

Behavioral Signs

Stress takes its toll on everyday behavior as well as exacting physical effects. When you are stressed, you’re more likely to exhibit one or more of the following behavioral changes:

  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Smoking more often
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Expressing anger
  • Slacking off on exercise

Emotional Effects

Perhaps the most tough-to-recognize effects of stress on a person are the ones affecting emotions. While they could be caused by an underlying physical condition, stress may also be at least a contributing factor in the following emotional effects of stress.

  • A feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Feeling anxious
  • An uncharacteristic restlessness
  • Being unable to focus or lacking motivation
  • Sudden sadness or depression

Ways to Manage Stress

Once you learn to recognize the signs of stress, for your own well-being and that of your loved ones, family members, co-workers and friends, it’s imperative that you find ways to manage stress before it spirals out of control and causes serious health problems. While each of these stress-reduction tips can help decrease stress, using them in combination can ratchet up your ability to maintain balance and personal well-being. You don’t have to be an expert to reap the benefits. Just dive in and act.

  • Make time for yourself. Granted, it sounds a little selfish, but good self-care when you’re stressed is vitally important to overcoming stress. If you have a hobby, set aside time to devote to it. This can be any activity that you enjoy, including gardening, cooking, decorating, reading, listening to music, watching movies or your favorite programs on DVR or video on demand. It isn’t the what you do but the fact that you carve time out to enjoy yourself. Even a brief time doing what you enjoy can dramatically reduce stress.
  • Activate your sense of humor. It’s hard to resist the sound of laughter. That’s almost universal. When you laugh, you breathe in oxygen that’s good for your heart and all your organs and this stimulates the production of endorphins in your brain that work to counteract stress. The increase in blood pressure from laughter has a corresponding effect of relaxation. Chuckles and smiles can also increase circulation to ease some physical symptoms of stress, including muscle tension.
  • Engage in regular physical activity. Being sedentary is linked to an increased disease risk as well as packing on the pounds. Regular physical activity, in the form of physical exercise, however, offers numerous benefits. Among them is the way exercise helps cut down on stress.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Overindulgence, eating high-fat, high-sugar, high-carbohydrate meals will make stress worse, not better. To counter the effects of stress or to maintain a more balanced lifestyle, make sure you eat a nutritious diet. Instead of skipping meals when time is tight, have nutritious snacks on hand that will prevent crashing and give you a healthy energy boost.
  • Get sufficient sleep. Stress robs your body and mind of the energy it needs. By ensuring you get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly, you can minimize the caustic effects of stress. Remember that the body heals during restful sleep and this is especially important when you are stressed and sleep-deprived.
  • Cut back on caffeine and alcohol. When you feel stressed and want an instant fix, instead of opting for that caffeine-rich drink or pouring a stiff drink, experts say it’s best to drink water. Caffeine and alcohol are known to cause an uptick in anxiety and may even trigger panic attacks in some stressed-out individuals. Research found that using alcohol to reduce stress may instead make the stress worse and prolong recovery from what caused the stress to begin with.
  • Just breathe. A quick and effortless way to reduce stress is to take a few deep breaths. Slowly breathe in and out whenever you feel stressed to experience almost immediate relief. Research has found that deep breathing, yoga, tai chi and other relaxation techniques can reduce stress and enhance well-being.

If you’re continuing to have difficulty reducing stress and its debilitating effects, consider getting help from a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, therapist, psychologist or social worker.