However, what also strikes me about these movies is the common theme of holiday stress. Expenses and financial insecurity, traveling (and maybe even getting lost), crazy cousins, and the torment of waiting are common stressors that can be particularly intense this time of year. There is little we can do to avoid these stressors. We must then focus on what we can do to limit the impact of these stressors on us and our health.
For the most part, stress negatively affects our health. When we encounter a stressor, “fight or flight” hormones are released that cause physiological changes throughout our bodies. These hormones have a profound effect on our cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and immune systems. This is one reason people who have chronic stress experience high blood pressure, gut problems, and are sick more often. These are serious health concerns.
The good news is, there are some practical ways we can mitigate our bodies’ stress response.
One of the best ways to counteract stress is with physical activity. Physical activity reduces levels of stress hormones while increasing endorphin levels. Endorphins are hormones that elevate mood and reduce sensations of pain. Moreover, physical activity provides opportunities to momentarily get away from it all and enjoy nature with friends.
Need some inspiration? Tuscaloosa has a great infrastructure that promotes physical activity. Get a neighbor or friend to walk or jog with you along the miles of our beautiful River Walk. You can safely and easily walk your dog or push the kids in a stroller on this flat, paved trial.
There are also many gyms in our county from which to choose. Don’t wait on New Year’s resolutions. Go ahead and join now one of the family friendly, reasonably priced PARA facilities. From trails to ellipticals to indoor pools to weight rooms, Tuscaloosa has something for you.
Relaxation techniques are another important part of stress management. Examples of relaxation techniques include deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation, yoga, Tai chi, and progressive relaxation. Some gyms provide classes, but instruction and guidance for many of these techniques can also be found for free on YouTube and podcasts. For the most part, these techniques are easy to learn, and you can practically do them anywhere and anytime. Give them a try and find out which best suits you.
My last tidbit of advice for now is time management. Procrastination and lack of good planning exacerbate holiday stress. Consider making a reasonable list of all you want to do in the upcoming weeks. Thoughtfully prioritize these to-do items and post only the essentials to a specific date on your calendar. Work smarter, not necessarily harder. To stay encouraged, sensibly reward yourself for small accomplishments along the way.
Don’t let stress rob you of joy this season. Get moving, take time to relax, and manage your time well. You will feel so much better. You’ll also be better equipped to handle everything from Cousin Eddie’s intrusive visit to an unwavering desire for a Red Ryder air rifle from Santa.