The holidays can often be a double-edge sword for people. On one hand, you have the joy of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and any other celebratory holiday, and on the other hand, you may have the pressure of shopping, mailing gifts and cards, baking, entertaining, children home from school, work deadlines, and a number of other everyday stresses. Sometimes just thinking about all you have to do is stress enough. I know this is the case for me at this time of the year. As I sit here writing this column, in the back of my head I’m even thinking about all that I need to accomplish and feeling a little stressed.
Without going into complicated scientific details, two simple reasons you want to relieve stress are to keep your body’s physiological and psychological negative reaction to stress at a minimum to prevent a variety of health problems. Continuous stress left unattended can affect your body in different ways including increased blood pressure and stroke, heart disease and weight issues. Stress can also have emotional and mental effects, including anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, cognitive impairment and even contributing to emotional eating. Lastly, stress may affect your quality of life in the following ways: poor nutritional choices, inadequate sleeping, and an unbalance of time between responsibilities and personal time.
So what can one do to relieve stress? One of the best recommendations is to exercise. However, you may be thinking, “I would love to exercise, but I don’t have the time with everything else I need to do.” The key to assuring you exercise, is schedule it into your day, just like an appointment. Then keep the appointment. If you feel the need to cancel your exercise appointment, turn your thoughts to how good you always feel after exercising and let that thought be the driving force for you to keep your appointment. Or you can recall how bad you have felt in the past when you have canceled your exercise appointment. Then ask yourself, “Of the two feelings, which one do I want to experience?” Ninety-nine percent of the time, you will choose the good feeling. Depending on how long you normally exercise, you may need to cut back the time commitment, but that’s okay. As little as 10 to 20 minutes will help you relieve stress.
One exercise that is rooted in relieving stress is yoga, “a Hindu system of philosophy aiming at the mystical union of the self with the Supreme Being in a state of complete awareness and tranquility through certain physical and mental exercises to promote physical and spiritual well being.”
More active exercises that involve the cardiorespiratory and muscular systems relieve stress by providing a sense of well-being due to the release of endorphins. According to the medical dictionary, endorphins are “any of a group of peptide hormones that bind to opiate receptors and are found mainly in the brain. Endorphins reduce the sensation of pain and affect emotions. The term endorphin was coined by combining the words endogenous and morphine. Like morphine, endorphins raise the pain threshold and produce sedation and euphoria.” Endorphins are released during long continuous workouts of moderate to high intensity, where breathing is difficult.
In addition to exercise, below are a few simple ideas to help lower your stress level:
* 1) Listening to music – Choose music that relaxes you and either take a moment to just listen to the song or have soothing music playing in the background while doing one of your holiday tasks. This time of year, I like to have Christmas music playing in the background when I’m home working or cooking dinner.
* 2) Visualization – Just close your eyes (not while driving, of course) and visualize yourself in a calm setting for a few minutes. Perhaps you have a favorite vacation spot where you felt totally relaxed. Let your memory come alive again during this visualization process.
* 3) Breathing – Breathe at your normal rate, but take controlled, deep breathes – inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. As you breathe, don’t move your shoulders up and down, but rather, let your abdomen expand and contract, similar to how a baby breathes. This will allow more oxygenation of the blood and increase your lung capacity. The best part of this stress releaser is that it can be done anywhere and anytime.
* 4) Laughter – Laughing is a free and simple activity that studies have shown reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine. Laughing can also help relieve pain and has be shown to increase immunity. A good belly laugh even works your abdominal muscles and relieves muscle tension across your upper back and shoulders. Whenever I want to unwind and relax with laughter, I just pop in a Seinfeld DVD.
* 5) Aromatherapy – Smells affect people in various ways. But for relieving stress, you can use any of a number of botanical smells to help bring about a sense of calm. Light a candle, add oil to a warm bath (a soothing activity by itself) or perhaps apply a scented body lotion to your skin. However, make certain you are not allergic to any of the lotion’s ingredients before applying to your skin. Some popular smells include lemon, lavender, rose and peppermint. During the holiday season, I particularly enjoy having a pine or Christmas wreath candle burning in the evening.
Happy fit and stress-free holiday!
Patty Peoples is an accomplished fitness professional with 30 years of experience, including 20 years as a Fitness Educator at Chaffey College, Duathlon World Champion in her division and winner of over 60 races since 2000. You can contact Patty through her blog at www.arrowheadp2.wordpress.com/about