Keep stress at bay this holiday season

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 2:04 p.m.

With the state of the economy this year, we are set up for a stressful ride if we aren't mindful of the pitfalls ahead.

Decorations and Christmas carols started weeks ago, especially in stores that want to cash in on the holiday sensation of buying more that we can afford. Although we know the economy thrives on the dollars that are rerouted through our spending methods, this may not be the year to concentrate on buying items that you will have to make payments on all next year.

Such behavior is one of the main contributing factors that lead to increased stress, which is a major contributing factor to most of the major diseases that affect us all. Everything from cardiovascular disease to depression, with a host of illnesses in between, have been linked by researchers to stress.

The fact is that we cannot live without any stress. It is, however, very important that we find a level of stress that allows us to live a healthy life. Walking that fine line may be somewhat difficult, but it can be done. If the objective is to live a healthy lifestyle, this topic must be as important as all of the other preventive health care measures we take.

First off, making the determination on what is stressful for you requires knowing what your responses are to the events in your life. Since we do not all experience all situations in the same way, reactions to events may differ significantly.

All stress is not apparent. We walk around with our shoulder muscles tense or experience the hidden manifestations that may not be as easily identified while the stress is making an attack on our blood pressure, heart and other organs.

The type of stress and its duration and frequency may be detriment in whether you should seek medical care. I do contend that all stress is not harmful; in fact, its presence sometimes can be quite useful.

Consider the level of stress present when you prepare to make a speech, take a test or sing a solo at church and you may not have realized it at the time, but the function of that stress is beneficial. It allows you to concentrate on the event and become relieved when it is over.

According to some sources, stress can be beneficial by helping people develop the skills they need to cope with and adapt to new and potentially threatening situations throughout life. However, the beneficial aspects of stress diminishes when it is severe enough to overwhelm a person's ability to cope effectively.

The fact is we are all subject to stress. Our lives are filled with situations that have the potential to produce it. Some sources give varying lists of behaviors that are indicators of increased stress. Some of those are listed below:

* Tension and irritability.

* Fear and anxiety about the future.

* Difficulty making decisions.

* Feeling numb.

* Losing interest in usual activities.

* Loss of appetite.

* Nightmares and reoccurring thoughts about an event.

* Anger.

* Increased use of alcohol and drugs.

* Sadness and depression.

* Feeling powerless.

* Crying.

* Sleep difficulties.

* Headaches, back pains and stomach problems.

* Difficulty concentrating.

If you find that stress reduction is something that will benefit you, I suggest you begin stress-reducing practices.

You can begin with diet changes. Foods that are rich in minerals and B vitamins are a good place to start. Include such items as green leafy vegetables, whole grains and natural sedative foods and beverages such as oats, warm milk and protein sources high in amino acids (cheese, meat and turkey), along with chamomile tea, one hour before bedtime.

Among the foods considered to be stress producers are peanuts, gluten, dairy, soy, yeast, eggs, corn and citrus. Stimulants that should be avoided are coffee/tea, chocolate (with caffeine) and refined sugar/refined carbohydrates (sweets, pastries, cookies).

Along with diet comes the usual recommendation of more exercise. Find a way to increase the amount of time you are active during the day. If you don't have an exercise routine, this may be a good time to start one.

Make this a treat and a gift that you give to yourself by doing something active that you have promised yourself you would do but have not found the time to do all year long.

Take advantage of all of the parks in the city for a walk, or if you want to be inside, walk the mall and look at the holiday decorations.

I would add to the suggestions listed so far the beneficial effect of relaxation. Find a way for special time for yourself.

Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing at Santa Fe College. Email your questions, with "Health Files" in the subject line, to

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