Page 3 of 3
In the Body
The manifestations of stress aren't just in how we interact with our family and friends. Stress can have a very real impact on your physical health. Add that to the myriad of not-so-healthy things we all do during the holidays, and it can lead to some larger concerns.
Family practitioner (and occasional BW contributor) Dr. Waj Nasser is used to hearing the holiday excuse: people eating too much, drinking too much, not exercising and using the holidays as the ultimate get-out-of responsibility card. But he's quick to point out that even if you only do it during the holidays, that adds up to roughly one-sixth of your life.
"People take a vacation from taking care of themselves," he said. "Don't wait until after the holidays. Take care during the whole year."
Ignoring what we all know we should (or shouldn't) do can aggravate existing problems, including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, migraines and back pain. And stress can make all of those things worse.
When the holiday demands start stacking up, it's sometimes hard to prioritize, but that's exactly what those being pulled in every direction need to do. It's an approach that has helped keep Boise resident Erika Knipe ahead of the stress curve.
During a lull while manning her booth at the Flying M craft sale, Knipe described how she balances making handmade crafts with the demands of the holidays. Her greatest tool: the almighty checklist. Knipe sets mini-deadlines for herself starting just after summer so things don't get pushed to the last minute. Knipe admits that there is a lot of pressure to create the perfect holiday, but she has her own survival strategy: keep it simple.
Simplicity and staying organized are valid approaches to dealing with stress, and ones largely recommended across the board. Boise personal training business Your Fitness Your Life even offered a class earlier in the season to help the stress-ridden masses turn the holidays joyous once again.
While class participants came from a variety of backgrounds, owner Marilyn McAllister said common causes for stress emerged early on. Mainly, people said they want a peaceful, family oriented holiday, but the pressure to maintain traditional activities, attend/give parties and keep up with work can get overwhelming.
McAllister and trainer Cortney Taul recommend learning one important word: "No." Being able to prioritize and putting aside the rest can help people find balance.
"Pick what's important to you," McAllister said.
Regardless of how it is dealt with, experts agree that too much stress hurts across the board. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the common symptoms of emotional stress include anxiety, restlessness, irritability, depression, anger, feeling insecure, lack of focus and forgetfulness.
"None of us are at our best when we're under too much stress," Timberlake said. "When people don't feel like they have that much control over their environment, it erodes their ability and the quality of how they experience life."
O'Brien has seen the effects of stress first-hand in her job as an addictions counselor. As she approaches the holidays, she's trying to follow some of the same advice she gives to her clients: keep a positive attitude.
"What's the point in worrying?" she said.
Worrying, overscheduling and being pulled in a million different directions not only cause stress but make it easy to get run down, which in turn can lead to a mild depression. Nasser said that many of the most common complaints--tiredness, fatigue, muscle pain, upset stomachs--are often symptoms of a far from exotic cause: patients are in a holiday funk.
But rather than turning to the Prozac, Nasser has a much simpler and less expensive cure: Try some physical activity. Whether it's getting outside or going to they gym, getting your heart rate up can go a long way toward improving overall health.
"You're not allowing your body to jerk you around," he said. "You take control back."
Nasser also cautioned not to rely on either caffeine or alcohol, both of which offer only temporary relief and have major drawbacks.
"It's easy to say, but not easy to do," Nasser said. "People have to advocate for themselves."
Of course, taking care of yourself during the holidays doesn't mean you still can't have a little fun.
"Splurge a little, but not to excess," he said. "You've got to live."