While the holiday season is typically full of parties and time spent with friends and family, it can also be a stressful time of year for many. Add in any feelings of depression or other mental health struggles related to COVID-19, along with the usual stress of cold and flu season during the winter, and it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed. Trying to find a balance between keeping you and your family safe and healthy, while still participating in holiday festivities and traditions with friends, coworkers and extended family can be stressful, to say the least.
Stress is our body’s natural way of protecting us against perceived physical, mental, or emotional threats in our environments, from loud, sudden noises to public speaking to the death of a loved one. When we encounter one of these threats, our brain’s hypothalamus sets off our body’s alarm system. Through both nerve and hormonal signals, your adrenal glands (located above your kidneys) release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenalin increases heart rate and blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and curbs everyday functions that would be nonessential or even detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation.
This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, motivation and fear. This stress-response system is usually self-limiting and once the threat has passed, the hormone levels return to normal. However, when stressors are always present or we constantly feel under attack, this system stays turned on. This puts us at greater risk for a variety of health problems, including:
• Heart disease
• Type II diabetes
• Digestive problems
• Sleep problems
• Weight gain
• Memory and concentration impairment
Although stress is a part of everyone’s lives, each individual will experience it on a different level, and in different ways. If you find yourself in a constant or near-constant state of stress in your day-to-day life, especially with the holidays just around the corner, here are some tips to help you manage your stress:
1. Eat a well-balanced diet. A diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains helps maintain a healthy body weight, provides energy, allows for better sleep, and improves brain function. And, while there are a variety of tasty holiday dishes and cocktails to be enjoyed this time of year, it’s important to limit your intake of both, despite the temptation to over-indulge.
2. Get moving. Try to aim for a minimum of 2 ½ hours of aerobic exercise per week, or 20-30 minutes a day. This could be a high intensity work out or even a daily brisk walk, as getting your body moving reduces your risk of heart disease, improves your sleep, and releases endorphins.
3. Take a mental break. Allow yourself to decompress. Reading a book, taking a walk, working on a puzzle, listening to music, or taking a bath are all great ways to unwind and give your mind a rest!
4. Find ways to stay connected. Human connection is an important part of your overall well-being, as it boosts your mood, increases your happiness, and helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills. Organizing a night out with friends, volunteering in your community, or joining a virtual book club are all great ways to help ensure that you find time for activities that you’re interested in, as well as decrease stress and feelings of depression.
5. Seek professional help when necessary. Because stress affects everyone differently, it can be difficult to know when it’s time to seek help. However, if your stress levels begin leading you to skip work, avoid plans with friends, lose sleep, and/or experience panic attacks, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional.
Although many factors related to both COVID-19 and the holiday season are beyond our control, there are a variety of ways to help control both the situation and our reaction to it. Continuing to avoid crowds whenever possible, wearing a mask, and washing your hands thoroughly and frequently can help lower your chances of contracting COVID-19, while budgeting and researching gifts for the holidays prior to shopping can help you stay in control of your finances so that you can focus on enjoying the festivities this year. While there isn’t a clear-cut, foolproof answer to managing stress or depression, identifying the stressors in your life can help you learn to eliminate or reduce them, allowing you to feel more relaxed and in control of your surroundings.
At Billings OB-GYN Associates, we are committed to providing you with the care and compassion that you deserve. If you need help or have questions regarding stress management, depression, or other mental health struggles this holiday season, please contact us today, or call (406) 248-3607 to speak with one of our providers.