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Managing our stress in the lead up to Christmas



By Therese - ADAVIC Volunteer


First of all to know how to manage stress, we need to understand what stress actually is. It is amazing when someone talks about stress, we quickly assume that it is all bad. You will be glad to hear that this isn’t so – more on that in the latter part of this article.

So what is stress? 

Stress is the way our body responds to an imminent threat or high demands triggering a “flight or fight response”. This occurs in a number of ways in our body, as follows:

  • Your mouth can become dry and there is less saliva;
  • Your heart rate can increase;
  • Your blood pressure rises (this is me!)
  • Sweating increases so as to cool the body;
  • Your blood clotting ability increases preparing itself for possible injury;
  • Your muscles tense ready for action;
  • Your liver releases sugar to provide quick energy; &
  • Your sphincter muscles contract to close the openings of the bladder and bowel.

Do these sound familiar to you?

  • Increased loss of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping including being restless
  • Anxiety, fears or panic
  • Clammy hands
  • Indigestion
  • Increased infections
  • Crying more than normal
  • Is your smoking or drinking increasing?

Don’t get disheartened, these are all normal reactions to stress but as stated earlier the news isn’t all bad. We actually need stress in our lives to get up in the morning and enable us to function, and also so that we can be ready to react to avoid danger e.g. standing too close to the kerb on a busy street.

What we don’t want of course is for people to be feeling overly stressed at Christmas time, an easy thing to do! Christmas is meant to be a happy time for most people but of course there are always those who are less fortunate and spend Christmas on their own or are estranged from family for whatever reason.

For those of us who experience mental health issues, the levels of stress can increase if we are not prepared for it, especially at Christmas when expectations are high – both on ourselves and by others. Equally too many stressors can cause heart attacks, suicidal ideation and strokes.

Medical scientists appear to divide people into two categories depending on their individual reactions to stress. Type A behaviour reacts aggressively, are competitive and self-impose pressure to get things done quickly. People with Type B behavioural characteristics, while being equally serious with their intentions, can be more easy-going and relaxed and more patient. It is those with the Type A behaviour who are more prone to heart attacks and the like.

So how can we reduce our stress leading up to Christmas? The best and kindest way to support ourselves is to change our actions and attitudes. This can be done through a variety of ways and you need to choose those which fit in with your life style, time schedule but most of all what benefits you.

Ideas for Actions:

  • Breathe! Take deep breaths and use these with some relaxing music and then you lay the ground work for meditation. Meditation need only take 5 minutes at the start and end of your day or at any time when you feel anxious – imagine a place where you are happy or have known happiness and that you are in that space “now”!
  • Write about what you are stressed about, whether it be on paper on in a journal. Something I find helpful is to write words, sentences on paper, set light to that paper outside or in the sink and let it float up to the Universe – a symbolic gesture of releasing the stress.
  • Work it off through physical exercise be it an exercise program or a good walk.
  • Take time out from the stress- YOU DESERVE IT!
  • If a particular person is bothering you – stay away or leave the room until you feel calmer and if possible avoid that person as much as possible.
  • Talk about it – either with a friend, family member, counsellor or ring Lifeline if need be.
  • Listening to music be it hard and heavy or relaxing music. I like to get up and dance around the lounge room – amazing how freeing this feels!

Ideas for Adopting New Attitudes:

  • Laugh it off – be generous with your smile and try and lighten a situation with humour.
  • Get rid of negative self-talk and adopt positivity. Use positive affirmations at the start of your day – I AM SPECIAL, I AM WORTHY.
  • Say “HOLD ON” to yourself – this is giving you permission to pause and steady your thoughts.
  • Imagine yourself in a winning situation – that you have come out of the stressful situation in a winning way – you got through it!


References:

Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques, 2002-2005, Bryant, Therese
Compton’s Interactive Encyclopaedia, 1996, Soft Key Multimedia
Spirit Be Free, 2009-14, Bryant, Therese



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