As I write this, it is three days before Thanksgiving. The noose is tightening, as the holidays get closer, and bring a good friend – Stress! Thanks to the dramatization of television and the melodramatic postings on social media, everyone embraces the notion holidays are stressful and can lead to severe depression. And it’s absolutely true! Holidays are extremely stressful, primarily due to the demands we place upon ourselves, but never fear, there are several ways to combat stress.

First, let’s discuss stress. What is it? How it works? It’s effect on us? Stress is, at it’s core, our body’s fight or flight response to dangerous or challenging stimuli. When we face a challenge, the body activates resources to prepare us to fight or flee. Our bodies produce larger quantities of chemicals: cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline than normal triggering an increased heart rate, heightened muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness. These chemicals improve our ability to respond and act. So stress is our response to “dangerous or challenging stimuli”, but what does that mean? Stressors are environmental factors that trigger our body’s defenses. What is “challenging or dangerous” to one may not be to others. For example, meeting a quickly approaching deadline at work can be challenging, activating a stress response. Loud noises in the street, traffic, long lines at Starbucks…are environmental stressors, and can create a physical reaction. Thought the physical reaction and severity are unique, the more stressors we experience, the more we feel mental and emotional overload.

Every TWE Juniors Martial Art class ends with a question: What do we improve when we train martial art? The Juniors answer: Mind, Body, Spirit, Emotion, and Focus in unison. These elements we aim to improve are interconnected. When our bodies react to stressors by creating stress, our emotional and mental state bends or breaks in accordance with that stress level and our individual body chemistry. Common emotional reactions to stress include:

Anger Anxiety Burnout
Lack of Concentration Depression Fatigue
Insecure Feelings Forgetfulness Irritability
Nail Biting Restlessness Sadness

If we’re constantly experiencing stressors and reacting to them on a daily basis, why are holidays so stressful? The answer: massive array of societal demands we want to accomplish in an very short time. Work, church functions, school, travel, family, presents, decorating, wrapping, cooking, shopping, crowds, traffic, money, year end work and pre-holiday goals …all in the span of a little over a month. No wonder stress levels increase during the holiday season.

Here are a few suggestions to combat your stress/stressors:

1) BE REALISTIC. Don’t expect every holiday to be perfect, don’t try to outdo yourself from previous years, and don’t try to repeat previous years either. People and circumstances change, so be open to that change. Set realistic goals for yourself based on reality. Keep your current work situation, financial situation, and family situation in perspective. If you can’t travel across to see your family, don’t. Try skype, facetime, write letters, and set up phone calls. If your work schedule only allows a few days off don’t pack those days with activities or expect to be able to be everywhere and do everything. Set a budget for your shopping, and stick to it. Don’t overload yourself with obligations you cannot meet. Also, learn to say “no” to avoid overbooking events.

2) TIME FOR YOURSELF. How much you need is entirely dependent on you, in that exact moment that you need it. Some days it may be 15 minutes, some days an hour or two. Don’t be afraid to just sit down and stop. Take a walk. Read a book. Get a massage. Sit in silence. Whatever you need, make sure you get it.

3) HEALTHY HABITS If you go to the gym twice a week, continue going to the gym twice a week. If you train in Wing Chun on Tuesday and Friday mornings, get to class. If you’re trying to eat healthier, find healthy food to prepare. Deviating from a healthy routine often leads to feelings of guilt, which creates additional stress. Sticking with your routine, especially incorporating exercise, helps combat the feeling of loss of control, and even counteracts stress chemicals flooding your system. And absolutely get adequate rest – sleep is key to rebuilding the body, and refreshing the mind.

If you try these and they don’t help or sound to daunting for the impossible enemy called stress, seek professional assistance. Despite our best efforts, we still may find ourselves feeling sad or anxious. You may be unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, or unable to face routine chores. You may be overwhelmed, and have difficulty finding a way out of hole.  Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if, no matter what you do or try doesn’t help you get ahead of your stress.

If TWE can help with holiday stress we are a phone call or training session away! And remember December is UNLIMITED TRAINING MONTH no matter what your current tuition program may be! We wish our students and their families happy, healthy, safe holidays.

Become the low stress change you seek!