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Sit Back and Relax: Holiday Stress Management

Holiday stress doesn’t stand a chance with these natural relaxation helpers.

| November/December 2005

Tis the season to be busy . . . and overwhelmed. Between the decorating, shopping in crowded stores, entertaining, parties, baking, preparing meals for family and friends, and getting all of those gifts and holiday cards mailed, it’s no wonder the holidays are stressful.

Of course we want to do it all, but most of us have unrealistically high expectations during this time of year. Attempting to meet those expectations can leave us less blessed and more stressed. If the holidays seem more like something to survive instead of something to celebrate, you’re not alone. Each year, millions of people suffer from increased seasonal stress and tension that rob them of the holiday spirit and leave them vulnerable to illness.

Avoid the Stress of the Season

Not only can the holidays leave you teetering on the edge of reason, this jammed-packed season can have a negative impact on your health. Stress depletes the nutrients needed to meet the demands of the busy holiday season, particularly protein and the B vitamins. Stress also can deplete vitamins A and C and the minerals magnesium and zinc. And it inhibits the body’s storage of calcium.

Stress also damages the immune system, which explains why we catch more colds when we are stressed. What’s more, it can trigger headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and depression. But stress doesn’t just result in maladies you can feel and see. It also works silently on a cellular level by generating free radicals that increase the oxidation and breakdown of healthy tissues. This may be why stress has been tied to heart disease and even some forms of cancer.

When it comes to your heart, stress — especially chronic stress — is definitely bad news. Studies show that stress can contribute to atherosclerosis, a condition marked by the buildup of plaque in the arteries. In one clinical trial of 18 healthy male doctors, German researchers found that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can cause red blood cells to clump together. The blood becomes thick and sluggish, increasing the risk of hypertension, stroke and heart attack. In another study, scientists at the University of Florida concluded that stress may lead to ruptured plaques inside the arteries or cardiac arrhythmias — two conditions that can cause death. Stress also can make a preexisting medical condition worse. People with seizure disorders, such as epilepsy, find that stress can trigger an episode. Those suffering from asthma are also more susceptible to attacks following a stressful event. According to a study of more than 5,000 young asthma sufferers by investigators at the University of Ulsan in Seoul, Korea, increased stress can trigger wheezing and breathlessness.

Fortunately, the following tips can help you keep a lid on holiday stress and help you stay healthy in the bargain.

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