Holidays have their own special stress
Holidays can be a wonderful time of year and also a difficult time of year. As Thanksgiving comes up, many of us will be trying to balance career, family and making connections with those we love.
It can be a time when our minds are racing with all the things we need to get done or get ready for and conversely, if you are alone, all you may see are endless hours ahead by yourself. Either kind of stress can, and does, hurt us. Stress hormones and our stress responses will influence how healthy we stay during the holidays.
Finally, modern medicine is recognizing that the mind/body connection is a large part of our human makeup. Our thoughts and perceptions in our everyday lives affect our bodies, our overall health and our general well-being.
Have you ever heard of “broken heart syndrome” (Takotsubo’s cardiomyopathy)? This is a sudden illness where the heart function declines suddenly, without any underlying disease. This “broken heart syndrome” is stress-induced and is an increasingly reported occurrence that mimics a myocardial infarction but with the absence of obstructive coronary artery disease. A factor of stress cardiomyopathy is its association with physical or emotional stress as its trigger. To me this not only proves the mind/body connection but validates what we all really need to know: Stress, perceived or real, does affect our overall health. While the above illness is rare, it is also very real.
Emotional stress can increase during the holidays. Our expectations are high whether it’s for an epic ski day or an epic feast with friends and family. On the list of things to do, we should include being willing to accept changes in plans, surprises and complications. We should plan first to “give peace a chance” during the holidays. My mother always said to me, “Dolores, if worrying will make it better then go ahead and worry. But always remember, most things work out better when you relax and live in the moment.”
Studies have shown that our perceptions can make or break our stress levels. “Feel-good” hormones are increased in our brains with touch, hugs, smiles, cuddling, music, warm tub soaks, massage, breathing techniques, meditation, repetitive self talk, yoga and prayer. Ultimately, don’t sweat the small stuff. Look for joy in each moment. Find things to be thankful for and focus on your blessings. Know that your trials will work themselves out. Take a moment to look at how you may be perceiving a situation, and let your head protect your heart by changing an “OMG!” to a “Huh. Imagine that.” I have learned through the many experiences in my life that joy can and does come even in the midst of some of the most difficult moments. The journey begins with our minds.
This holiday season, take care of yourself and honor your mind/body connection. Embrace both calm and chaos as great memories of a special moment in time. Let your head protect your heart by deciding that holidays don’t necessarily follow any game plan, and that’s OK, and probably that’s why we love them. Peace out.
Dolores Snell, PA-C, is the physician assistant who teams with Dr. Susan Inscore at Glenwood Medical Associates. She is a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist, with a background in interventional cardiology and electrophysiology. She is also a registered cardiac sonographer with extensive experience in adult, pediatric and neonatal echocardiography. Mental health issues are a special avocation for her.
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