It starts with Thanksgiving, the countdown to meltdown. You only have so many shopping days left, travel or festivity arrangements to make and the inevitable joy (and pain) of visiting with relatives. Life is busy enough, as it is nowadays and having a “good holiday,” can leave feeling like you’re in a pressure cooker.
We recently watched a very good movie on the effects and biology of stress put out by National Geographic called STRESS: Portrait of a Killer (if you get the chance to see this important video, you can stream it on Netflix, do so.)
This documentary talks specifically about the stress response in our bodies, how it can not be turned off and ultimately its affects on our heart, brain, and general health. Dr.s Robert Sapolsky and Elizabeth Blackburn have been doing studies on the effects on stress not only on our bodies, but also on our DNA, and how stress is actually affecting the ends of DNA strands and unraveling them, shortening our lives. Here’s a clip:
Dr. Blackburn also found the way to stop the deterioration of the DNA and to build new ends is to strengthen them is by social interaction and doing for others — finding an outlet for your stress. Parents of chronically ill children who gather with other parents of the same tend not only not to have the DNA strands unravel, but they also have the ends regrow and strengthen when they meet regularly, releasing the chronic stress they live under often using humor. It’s estimated that giving continuous care to chronically ill people for a year, ages the giver 6 years!
What does this mean for you this holiday season? (Or the rest of the year for that matter?) It means stress and its effects are even more dangerous than we previously thought. Which also means it’s all that more important to get the thought patterns that lead to stress in your life reprogrammed and to employ a variety of coping mechanisms and stress reduction exercises into your life now.
These can be a simple as:
- Focusing on the present (the only tangible thing you have in terms of time anyway). Don’t rehash past issues or grudges. Let the past be in the past and the future be unknown. You only have now.
- Take time to slow down and breathe. Take a walk, or relaxing bath. Try meditating, listening to music, dancing, laughing, stretching or playing. Anything that brings joy and relief in a state of non-worry.
- Remember you are NOT your problems, whatever the worry is, take a break from it. Worrying never resolved anything.
- Don’t “should” all over yourself. Leave old judgments and ideas of what you and others should do out of your lexicon and your thought process. Trying to exert control over your own life, let alone someone else’s can create a feeling of intense stress and of hopelessness. Begin to trust, instead of worry, flow instead of force. You will find that life will become easier and sweeter, when you let go of the “shoulds,” and let the natural rhythm of your life reveal itself to you.
- Get some bodywork. Massage has been proven to reduce the effects of stress on the body and to put you in a more relaxed and eased state of mind.
Using meditation, massage and humor helps heal the effects of stress. Learning to stay in the present also helps release the “memory” of stressors. You cannot be stressed if you are here and now — no past, no future.
Here’s wishing you peace, fun and love this holiday season — present in this moment and in full appreciation of those around you and the time you have together. Breathe!
— Esther and Tara