Southwest Counseling: Dealing with Holiday Stress


Holidays can be a very stressful time and it can often be hard to recognize and cope with everything going on. Several things can occur internally when your body undergoes stress. The things that your body may experience could potentially be detrimental to your health. Sometimes when we are experiencing stress or dealing with a stressful situation, we don’t know what’s happening physiologically in our bodies. It can be a lot easier to identify the feeling of stress than it is to understand why you might be reacting the way that you are because of what is happening internally. Listed below is a series of events that can take place as your body processes stress.

In the Nervous System the fight or flight, reaction to a sudden or perceived threat causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, called “stress hormones.” The sympathetic nervous system’s hormones make the heart beat faster, raise blood pressure; change the digestive process, and increases glucose levels in the bloodstream.

In the Musculoskeletal System, your muscles might begin to tense up and contract and may trigger headaches and migraines.

In the Respiratory System stress can cause rapid breathing, hyperventilation, and or panic attacks in some.

In the Cardiovascular System, acute stress can cause an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart muscles. Repeated episodes of acute stress can cause inflammation in the coronary arteries, thought to lead to heart attacks.

In the Endocrine System, the “stress hormones” cortisol and epinephrine are released, and the liver produces more glucose.

In the Gastrointestinal System, Esophagus: stress may prompt you to eat/drink more producing reflux or heartburn. Stomach: Nausea, pain or even vomiting if the stress is severe. Bowels: tress can cause diarrhea or constipation.

So how do we go about preventing these things from happening? Everyone experiences stress differently, and for some, it is hard to stop a stress or anxiety attack from spiraling into a depression. However, there are some precautions that we can take to avoid these feelings. The Mayo Clinic has listed some suggestions for taking on the Holidays.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. It is normal to feel sad, communication plays a large role in how we get cared for. It is okay to express your feelings with those close to you and you do not have to force yourself to feel happy just because of the holidays.
  • Reach out. In Wyoming especially it is important to connect with the community. If you are feeling isolated, sad, or depressed, let people know. Living in a small community it is important to be support systems for each other and help those we care about feel connected. There are many other ways to feel connected in the digital age. A text, call, or video chat can be good ways to connect especially during COVID. You can also join a club, group, or community to help you feel connected, and let them know you are there to help.
  • Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. For example, if your family can’t all meet together, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails, or videos. Or meet virtually on a video call. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate.
  • Stick to a budget. More than two-thirds of Americans say that Holidays lead to feelings of financial strain. Before you begin your holiday shopping create a budget. Determine who you would like to give gifts to, how much you would like to spend and how much you can afford to spend. Homemade gifts and gift exchanges are also a good way to keep a balanced budget.
  • Plan ahead. Help yourself out by managing your time. This could look like, planning specific days for shopping, baking, socializing, and other activities. By doing this you can also prioritize what needs to get done the most before getting to the less pressing things. This also prevents the stress and anxiety involved in last-minute scrambling.
  • Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
  • Take a breather. Self-care is very important for managing stress and depression. A “Breather” can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour of you-time. Clearing your mind by doing something you like or that makes you happy is a healthy way to reset. Some examples may include; going for a walk, reading a book, eating a snack, or listening to music.
  • Seek professional help if you need it. When in doubt seek the help you might not be getting in your daily life. Despite your best efforts, even when taking all of the “appropriate” measures you are still finding yourself sad, depressed, or stressed. If this is the case it might be time to seek professional help from a mental health professional or doctor. You can also reach out to the suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you or a loved one is in immediate danger do not hesitate to call 911.

For more great tips and tricks to manage your stress visit: Stress Management/MayoClinic

Take care of yourself this holiday season and help refer those you love to appropriate resources if necessary. Holidays are stressful for a number of reasons, but can also be very enjoyable, don’t forget to take time for yourself and care for your mental wellbeing. If you need mental health resources or have questions about suicide in Wyoming please call Southwest Counseling Service at 307-352-6677 and ask for Shelby Gordon or Delaney Wells.

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