Christmas, the General Election and Stress
For a lucky organised few Christmas is a stress free, well prepared, planned event. However, for most of us Christmas is a stress breeding ground. Looking for the perfect gift, getting the right timings for the meal and the family dilemmas we all experience. Not to mention this year they decided to throw in a General Election which will impact the whole country. Our bodies respond with a low level chronic stress response. This stress response allows you to continue functioning under the stress however, it can lead to long term complications.
We’re here to help you reduce your stress levels during this busy time of year.
Too Stressed to Understand Stress
Stress can be defined as: A physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure).
When it comes to stress there are two main pathways. One for acute short term stress and the other for longer more chronic stress. These pathways are called Sympathomedullary Pathway (SAM) and the Hypothalamic Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Pathway.
SAM (Sympathomedullary Pathway)
The sympathomedullary pathway is more commonly know as the “Fight or Flight” pathway. It’s main concern is preparing the body for immediate danger. It does this by increasing the bodies heart rate, breathing rate, sweating, butterflies in the stomach, nausea, dilated pupils, emptying bowels and a general shutting down of systems that are not required for the threat at hand.
This whole process is caused initially by sympathetic nerves which stimulate the body’s organs directly, this stimulation increases the amount of adrenaline released into the blood stream. Adrenaline is a hormone which excites the body and gets it ready for action. When the danger has surpassed, adrenaline stops being released and the body slowly returns to normal. This process usually lasts only a few minutes, whilst you either fight or escape the threat faced. (1)
Being startled or surprised is the most common time this pathway is activated and is a normal healthy response to immediate stress. It is hard to prevent this stress from occurring, luckily this stress does not have harmful long term side effects.
HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary-Adrenal Pathway)
When the stress lasts longer than a few minutes, lets say a whole month (Christmas!), the hypothalamus becomes involved. This is a part of the brain that controls the body and it’s many systems via the release of hormones.
One such hormone is called CRF (corticotropin releasing factor) which travels through the blood to the part of the brain that controls bodily systems. This part of the brain releases another hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). ACTH travels to the kidneys to make one final substance called cortisol.
Cortisol increases blood pressure, sweating, vigilance, improved emotional memory, increased production of glucose from glycogen in the liver, and weakens the immune system. This process allows the body to be ready to respond to a threat at any given time, it is a low level constant state of alertness. This can be useful if you’re being hunted by a predator however, it was not really designed to occur during your christmas shopping. (1)
This is because long term production of Cortisol can lead to:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment (4)
As well as Christmas and a General Election, the main causes of this form of stress can be divided into two categories. Work stresses and Life stresses.
- Being unhappy in your job
- Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
- Working long hours
- Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
- Working under dangerous conditions
- Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
- Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
- Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn’t supportive
- The death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Increase in financial obligations
- Getting married
- Moving to a new home
- Chronic illness or injury
- Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
- Taking care of an elderly or sick family member (5)All these different stressors can lead to your body producing cortisol. The more cortisol produced, and the longer large amounts of cortisol stay in your bloodstream, the more likely you are to develop symptoms.
Stress should be taken seriously and people should try and reduce stress whenever they can. There are multiple ways to reduce stress at home as well as professional help, where you can ask for assistance in dealing with stress.
Get enough Sleep
For an adult the amount of sleep required each night varies from person to person. With the exception of a rare few, the amount of sleep needed each night for an adult is between 7 and 9 hours.
Getting less than 7 hours a night can lead to huge range of issues; Weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke. It can also cause depression, increased risk of death, impaired immune function, increased pain, impaired performance, increased errors, and greater risk of accidents. Sleeping for more than 9 hours a night might lead to adverse health risks although the research behind it is still in development. (3)
Learn Relaxation techniques
Practicing mindfulness can help us avoid overthinking past mistakes or future concerns. Proven to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety, mindfulness-based stress reduction can help keep us in the present moment. These techniques can help us mentally “check in” with our own bodies throughout the day, teaching us how to slow our heart rate and breathing, to calm our stress response.
Try: Take a deep breath in for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Exhale for four seconds. Pause for four seconds. Repeat.
If you are struggling with mindfulness and meditation there a plenty of classes offered in communities as well as free resources available online such as mindful.org. Once you find a strategy or technique that works for you, stick with it.
Strengthen your social network
Connect with others by taking classes, joining an organisation or group, or reconnecting with people you haven’t spoken to in a while. By connecting with others and talking about experiences you can put things into perspective and subsequently reduce stress.
Not just with the Christmas turkey but with your life in general. If you organise your time at the start of the week you will be better prepared for the week to come and can deal with any problems that arise out of the blue.
If you sleep for 8 hours a day that leaves 16 hours left in the day. By spending 8 hours of the day at work and a 1 hour commute each way thats 6 hours left in the day. You need to eat, wash and clothe yourself so let say thats another 2 hours. That still leaves you with 4 hours a day to do whatever else you want to do. Even with the busiest schedule you can still find time to reduce stress.
Resolve stressful situations
If you know there is a stressful situation that needs to be dealt with, such as a conversation, deal with it sooner rather than later. The longer stressful situations fester the more stress it puts on your body and sometimes the worse the situation becomes. Also by resolving the stressful situation you will feel happier in yourself.
Take some time off for yourself. Treat yourself to a massage, or a walk, or even a nap. Take a bit of time to allow your body to recover and forget about all the stress. Even if it is 5 minutes before bed, you need that time to decompress from a busy day.
Everyone needs a break now and again so allocate some time each day/week/month to do something you really enjoy. This is one of the best ways to reduce stress and can reinvigorate you, ready to go back to your stressful situation.
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to vocalise your feelings to loved ones and friends. Asking for help is a great way to combat stress, especially at this time of year. If you don’t know how to combat stress then you can always ask a health professional. (2)
Both Osteopaths and Chiropractors can help people manage their stress. This is done by first identifying the main cause of stress and then coming up with strategies to reduce it’s impact on your life. Stress also leads to muscular tension and restriction of movement. Osteopaths and Chiropractors are very good at relieving this tension. This can help in numerous physical and psychological ways, thereby reducing your stress levels.
At Acorn Health, Emsworth, we are also fortunate to have our highly experienced Life Coach Rhiannon Oakley who works with individuals and couples to help them learn practical skills and set goals to reduce stress and improve their lives. Find out more about life coaching here.
Remember, Christmas is meant to be about kindness, generosity and a sense of community, not a stress filled ordeal at the end of every year. Take some steps to reduce your stress and your body and mind will thank you for it.
Cohen, S. and Rodriguez, M.S., 1995. Pathways linking affective disturbances and physical disorders. Health Psychology, 14(5), p.374.
“Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society.” Sleep 38, no. 6 (2015): 843-844.
acorn health, Acorn Health Emsworth, advantages and disadvantages of osteopathy, Brexit, chiropractic, chiropractor, Chiropractor Chichester, chiropractor emsworth, chiropractor havant, chiropractor near me, christmas, Christmas stress, General Election, headache, is osteopathy safe, James Bisson, James Bisson Osteopath, Life Coach Emsworth, Life Coach Rhiannon Oakley, Life Coach Stress, life coaching, osteopath, Osteopath Chichester, Osteopath Chiropractor, Osteopath Emsworth, Osteopath Havant, osteopath near me, osteopath nhs, osteopath or chiropractor, osteopathy, osteopathy degree, osteopathy near me, osteopathy vs chiropractic, osteopathy vs physiotherapy, philippa oakley, philippa oakley chiropractor, stress, Stressed