Monday, December 12, 2011

Stress and You

'Tis the season. The holiday season is upon us and with it comes a myriad selection of activities that flood our days (and sometimes nights). We add these holiday activities and functions to our already full plate consisting of home, family, work, volunteering, recreational activities (Feel free to add your own choices to this list) and before we know it we've got headaches, fatigue, feelings of overwhelm, colds, indigestion, sleeplessness, and short tempers.

What's the solution? From my perspective as a licensed massage therapist (and crazed holiday enthusiast who partakes in creating, sharing, eating rich holiday foods, decorating in an eclectic country home spun yet elegant Martha Stewart-esque style, seeing clients daily, writing a business manuscript on massage therapy, taking care of a home, pets, family, volunteering with a civic organization and trying to fit in time for socializing with the special people in my life); it's safe to say I know a little something about the topic of stress, it's effects on the human condition and how to effectively reduce it.

First, it's important to know how stress registers for you. Some people can go, go, go and not even know they ARE stressed so it's important to recognize the signs before you become worn out.

  • Fatigue (feeling like you wake up tired and go to bed tired.)
  • Muscle tension (especially neck, shoulders, chest and abdomen)
  • Racing thoughts (too much in your head to think about)
  • Easy to anger (that %*@$% cut me off in traffic!)
  • Feeling overwhelmed (manifesting as sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety)
  • Sleeplessness (worry, tension, a long "to do" list)
There are other symptoms that may present as well but these are some of the more commonly overlooked signs of stress overload. After these come the ones that FORCE us to take notice. Things like: headaches, heartburn/gerd/acid reflux, colds and flu, and other problems that effectively put us down for the least temporarily.

It's vitally important (all the time) but especially at busy times of the year like the holidays to induce the relaxation response as frequently as possible to keep stress from becoming more problematic. Unchecked stress can lead to many serious health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes so knowing how it affects you and how you can deal with it is well worth the time and effort. Here are a few options for you to try:

  • Massage and bodywork. (Of COURSE I'm going to mention this! Massage is one of THE premier ways of inducing the relaxation response through soothing the nervous system, releasing muscular tension and shutting off monkey mind chatter).
  • Deep breathing. (When stressed, we naturally breathe more shallow. Deeper breathing sends nourishing oxygen to all the cells of your body. Good stuff, trust me.)
  • Mindful exercise. (Yoga, tai chi, qi gong, walking. These options help you to focus your mind, increase rhythmic breathing, stretch your body while releasing stored tension and improving circulation)
  • Guided meditation or visualization. (These offer verbal guidance to help you to progressively relax your muscles, deepen your breathing and slow your conscious brain activity)
The holidays needn't be a time of dread due to a to-do list that extends around the block. Take on those things that are "have tos", interspersed with the things that make you feel great. Don't feel you have to do it all or be it all. You don't. The more relaxed you feel, the better you'll enjoy your holidays, friends and family and the reason for the season. (You get to choose what that is for you.)

So go color a picture and just let go.....