Living With

Stress Management During the Holiday Season

Deanne Stein Health Guide December 12, 2007
  • I believe the term "Black Friday" is appropriate. It can be a very dark day when people fight for those items on sale. It's the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers offer blockbuster discounts on select merchandise. The stores open super early, enticing people to wake up before the sun rises to get the best deals. Of course, the sale prices are always followed by "limited quantities" and "while supplies last." This only adds to the stress of getting to the stores before they open and waiting in long lines. I made my holiday gift list and decided to brave the madness- that is until my alarm clock went off at 4 a.m.

     

    I figured my sleep was more important than a sale, so I turned off the alarm and slept for a few more hours. I'm glad, too. I mean, who needs that stress? The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and good times with family and friends. But sometimes "Black Friday" brings out the worst in people. A police officer friend of mine told me a fight actually broke out at our local Wal-Mart between two people trying to get the last "something" on sale. He couldn't remember what item it was, but does it really matter? Is getting that perfect gift worth that kind of stress? And it's not just shopping. The stress of the holidays can add up all the way through the New Year. People trying to decorate their homes, host fabulous parties and prepare the perfect Christmas dinners. Surely all this stress can't be good for your health.

     

    I remember when I had my stroke in 2001; I was going through a stressful contract negotiation with my employer. We couldn't agree on anything, and I almost quit and went to a competing station. If I had done that, I knew I would be facing a long legal battle. The situation was extremely stressful for about two weeks. Finally, when we reached an agreement, I was so relieved. However, the following week, right after I signed the contract, I had a stroke. I always believed those stressful weeks contributed to my stroke. My doctor never said it did or didn't. He told me a one-time stressful event rarely causes a stroke, but long-term unresolved stress can contribute to high blood pressure, which can be the single most important risk factor for stroke. Even though I didn't have high blood pressure, I did take my job too seriously. I believe that with the demands of work and caring for my family, I did have continuous stress. But some stress can actually be good for you, in small doses, of course.

     

    Some doctors say moderate amounts of stress can help people through deadlines at work, perform tasks more efficiently or even improve memory. It's the kind of stress that gives us a short-term buzz when we get this sudden burst of hormones from whatever is stressing us out. Some experts say this good stress can help improve heart function and fight off infections. Basically, it can stimulate us. But when stress lingers, it can become bad stress. If the flood of hormones hits your body and sticks around longer than 24 hours, it can take a toll on your body.

  • Bad stress lasts for weeks and can cause depression, heart disease and high blood pressure. This needs to be addressed, because even mild hypertension increases stroke risk, especially if it's not being treated. Doctors say in general, blood pressure levels should be below 120/80. If blood pressure is higher, it can cause atherosclerosis, which puts abnormal pressure on blood vessel walls. When this happens, the vessels become weak and can cause a rupture. This is why hypertension is sometimes called the "silent killer," because there may be no obvious symptoms. So, it's important to check your blood pressure regularly and control it. Ways to do that are through medication, a low-sodium diet, weight control and stress-management. Ways to manage stress can include relaxation techniques, exercise and counseling. This will in turn, help keep your blood pressure in check.

     

    So, don't fret over turkey and that table centerpiece, just enjoy the holidays for what they are, spending time with the ones we love. Oh and by the way, even though I hit the stores hours after "Black Friday" began, I still got everything on my list. Turns out the things I wanted were well stocked and still on sale. What a stress reliever!

     

    Read Melanie's 15 Top Tips to Help you Unwind During the Holidays for more advice on managing seasonal stress.