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Stress and the Holiday


By Joe Cartwright, BA, CPT, YES

It’s that wonderful time of the year again – the holidays. Are you aware that the holidays are the most stressful time of the year? People are running around cleaning their homes so thoroughly for their guests, it’s like they are trying to make it look like a stage house. Others have spent the entire week planning out the seven-course meal they have to prepare for their entire family. Don’t even get me started on the financial stresses that food, gifts, and travel can cause. How many of you are already worked up about having to sit in the same room as your cousin Rupert, whom you haven’t spoken to since last year after the scene he made? Holidays should be a time of joy, relaxation, and true thanksgiving for what we have.

Stress plays an evil antagonist in the story of our lives; but like every good story, you need a bad guy to make the plot good. Let me explain why we need stress in our lives.
First, it is crucial to know that there are two types of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is like the good angel on your shoulder; this stress plays a positive role in your life. Eustress motivates, improves performance, and is more exciting. An example of eustress would be like getting a promotion at work. You are required to perform at a higher level, you are in an unfamiliar environment, and the task is more difficult than before. However, you earned that position, the pay is higher, and it’s new and exciting. Distress is the evil demon on the other shoulder. Distress causes worry and anxiety, decreases performance, and causes an overwhelming feeling. Distress would be staying up all night to work on a project that is due the next day; if you blow it you either get fired or fail that college course. That being said, we need stress in our lives, but we need to make sure we listen to the angel and not the demon.
Of course there are situations where distress is inevitable. It is how we handle distress that is the key. One way to manage stress is to think of yourself as a “creator” rather than a “victim.” Creators turn distress into eustress. Victims are exactly that; they wallow in their own self-pity and are always the victim of bad things. The next time a stressful situation comes up, be a creator. For example, you’re getting distressed about fitting all the guests into your house for the party. Instead of fretting, be happy you have a home to host a party. Focus on the joy of having your entire family together under one roof. Be thankful to be able to see people you haven’t seen in a while.
Another way to manage stress is to say “No.” Sometimes we think being a “yes man” is the right thing to do, but it can be overwhelming. Even if a new opportunity arises that could be good, say no. The Harvard Business Review advises people to say no to a good opportunity once a week. Although it may seem like a loss, if you keep taking on new tasks, you will not be able to do well in all of them. Invest in a few select opportunities and excel in those, rather than stressing yourself out and becoming mediocre in many things.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that diet and exercise are great ways to relieve stress as well. There is no such thing as “comfort food.” Foods high in calories, fat, and sugar leave you feeling tired and sluggish, which will only add to the stress. Getting the right nutrition will give you the energy you need to tackle the hard tasks of the day. When you exercise, you release natural hormones called endorphins. These are commonly known as “feel good” hormones because they help you reduce stress in the body. You can choose exercises like boxing and med ball slams to help “pound” the stress away.
We all have stressors in our day, but that is what keeps us motivated. Find the positive in everything you do. When you start to feel overwhelmed, create a better situation. Don’t become a victim. Learn to say no and use exercise as a great tool to blow off that distress. Each of us has a beautiful story in our lives. Just make sure your antagonist, distress, doesn’t win in the end. Turn that distress into eustress so you can live happily ever after.
Stress and the Holiday

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