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Slowing Down over the Holidays.

Posted Nov 14 2010 9:36am

Balance_and_TranquilityWe all get excited about the holidays. There is family to see, food, and traditions to enjoy in, but often it can feel like the season is spinning too fast. With the daylight hours being shorter, this is actually a time of year to be more internal. Animals hibernate. Its cold, and your body is trying to slow down. Honoring our bodies natural desire to slow down makes you less likely to overeat, overspend, and overcommit.

I recently read about some amazing research being done at Stanford by biologist, Robert Sapolsky. He lived in Kenya for years and studied baboons by living with them, much like what Diane Fossey did with Mountain Gorillas. Sapolsky observed how stress affected baboons and consequently their health problems. The news on stress is that its impact on our physical health is largely linked to our emotional state.

While we may be excited about the holidays, many of us associate it with a lot of doing and consequently a lot of stress. Sapolsky has found many really interesting correlations between perceived stress and how it manifests in our lives and I would encourage you to look more into his research. The purpose of this article is to link what he has found to reduce stress into a plan for the holidays.

Here are 7 ways to reduce stress in your life:
1. Make Friends
Social relationships are a powerful buffer against stress. It has been found in Europe and the US that people with fewer friends and family members have shorter life expectancies. One reason for this is the fact that loneliness can cause stress. Studies of monkeys who were more socially isolated had higher levels of stress hormones, a reduced immune response, and a higher mortality rate. Spending time this season with friends and family is a good thing, if we can make the holidays about spending time with others. We don’t have to host a huge dinner to be able to share in others we appreciate and love.
2. Drink in Moderation
Alcohol can often flow freely during the holiday season. It is an anxiolytic meaning that it melts away anxieties by dampening the response of the sympathetic nervous system and reducing stress hormones. While a moderate amount of consumption may reduce the stress response, a higher amount of alcohol actually triggers a large release of stress hormones.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation is not just about feeling tired. Recent studies have also found that insufficient sleep triggers an automatic spike in stress hormones. This same response actually makes it harder to fall asleep when you actually want to since this spike revs up your system. Therefore, less sleep, more insomnia.
4. Don’t Fight
While observing baboons, Sapolsky found there was a set of personality traits linked reliably with lower levels of stress hormones. One of these was the ability o walk away from provocations that might send a normal baboon into a snarling hissy fit. Interestingly, the nice baboons remained near the top of the troop hierarchy about 3 times longer than the baboons who were easily provoked into a fight.
5. Confront Your Fears
It has been found that our fears can aggravate our stress response. It is found that if we confront our fears, then our chronic stress response toward this fear can disappear. For example, when paratroopers are first learning to parachute, they experience a massive stress response. However, after these same paratroopers had been jumping for awhile these elevated levels of stress only lasted right before the jump and in midair, which is when they needed it. The chronic stress response they initially experienced had disappeared.
6. Meditate
Numerous studies have demonstrated that even a short training session in meditation can dramatically reduce levels of stress and anxiety. Meditation allows people to get out of our heads and do a better job of being in the moment, hence not focusing on the negative and stressful thoughts.
7. Don’t force yourself to exercise
While exercise is great and effective at blunting the stress response for a few hours, this effect only works if you want to exercise in the first place :) If you force yourself to go to the gym and then suffer through 30 minutes on the treadmill, you don’t reduce your stress levels. In fact you might be making things worse. Find activities that you enjoy doing and look forward to.

In summary, slowing down over the holidays is allowing yourself to get plenty of sleep, eat well, and redouble your commitment to being practices like yoga, being in nature, or meditation. If you maintain balance most of the time, you can enjoy the season’s indulgences even more and recover from them more quickly. “Enjoy the season in moderation … Going with it creates less stress.”

For those of you looking for more support throughout the holidays and into the New Year, Intuitive Wellness has coaching packages and classes specifically designed towards fostering healthy eating, exercise, and stress management practices. If you are looking for that perfect holiday gift, a gift of health for you or your friends and family may be much more lasting than the newest iphone out this year. Click here to read more about coaching packages-

May your holiday season be happy and healthy!

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