alive logo

Holiday Stress


Ho, ho, hold the stress. The coming holiday season is supposed to be full of laughter but many find it full of stress. It has been estimated that about three-quarters of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems..

Ho, ho, hold the stress. The coming holiday season is supposed to be full of laughter but many find it full of stress.

It has been estimated that about three-quarters of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems. The result of chronic stress to our bodies is disastrous. This holiday season reduce the impact of stress by eating right and practising a few easy stress-management tools.

Despite the myths, there is no increase in the number of psychiatric admissions in the holiday month of December (Psychology Report, October 1999). Of course, many of us would disagree particularly when a snowstorm rolls in and cuts off the electricity and the dog gets hold of the turkey.

Oh, the memories of holidays past. How they can make us laugh. But with the hustle and bustle of trying to see so many family and friends we find our stress levels rising and our eating habits turning to gobble, gobble, gobble.

Stress is a complex chain of events involving psychological, environmental, and physiological factors. Stress damages the body. Prolonged stress has been linked to hypertension, fatigue, heart disease, gastrointestinal disturbances (e.g., ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome), cognitive dysfunctions (e.g., reduced memory or learning), insomnia, and skin rashes.

Take a Breath

Stress can be detrimental to mental health. Ever noticed mental glitches in the holiday season such as your aunt always calling you the wrong name or the hostess wearing her shirt on backwards? The following simple suggestions can help us retain our mental health:

  • Practise 10 minutes of deep breathing each day.
  • Plan some time alone. Tip: find a good book. It will lure you to take a break. Preliminary research in the May 2004 issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology found positive effects with the use of mindfulness therapy on stress factors in the body.
  • Tell the family to take a hike. Exercise has been shown to improve mental wellness by decreasing stress and depression.
  • Have a sense of humour particularly when Uncle Ralph falls asleep with his face in the squash. Humour is often helpful; many doctors use humour as a form of therapy.
  • Eat right. What you eat can help your brain function better.

Some of the damaging effects of stress may be due to a deficiency in essential fatty acids (EFAs). During stress, enzymes involved in the formation of polyunsaturated fatty acids are inhibited. This is problematic because EFAs give rise to less damaging inflammation mediators than other forms of fat. Therefore, EFAs are beneficial for the underlying damage that results in the health problems associated with stress (e.g., diabetes, osteoporosis, or cardiovascular disease). EFAs have also been shown to help with mental dysfunctions. Since they've been shown to reduce hostility and stress in students during exams (Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 1999) imagine what they can do for your family at Christmas.

Ever said, "This is going to give me an ulcer" or "This is going to give me a heart attack"? It just may. Stress can cause serious damage to the body. Luckily, studies have shown that gamma linoleic acid (GLA) can protect against ulcer formation by inhibiting the damaging effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, cortisol, and bacteria. In addition, a multi-centre clinical trial reported that supplementation with fish oil lowered mortality rates from cardiac causes (Lancet, October 1999).

Foods for Moods

This holiday, try to spruce up your plate. Don't let it look like the snow outside. Have a rainbow of colour. Fruits and vegetables are great stress busters. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables can help your immune system stay strong through the "cold" season. In the June 2004 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition measurable signs of oxidative stress were reduced with the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Cherries are particularly good for holiday stress because they contain melatonin. According to one Lancet study (December 1985) melatonin can help improve sleep quality. Also, in the Psychiatry Research (January 1998), melatonin was found to reduce winter depression. Even though cherries are not available in Canada in December, cherry juice is, and it's a festive-looking treat.

This holiday season eat properly for mental health. Practise mental health skills such as relaxation and exercise. Remember to laugh at Uncle Vernon's camp stories you've heard over a hundred times and to be patient with little Timmy the terror. You only get to see them once a year.



Hollywood Balancing Act

Hollywood Balancing Act

Drawing on martial arts philosophy, Peter Jang finds mind-body balance in a decade-plus career

Shawn RadcliffeShawn Radcliffe