Will Power or Won't Power: Best Strategies for Mastering Holiday Stress
It is the holiday season and all our regular stresses of our modern world are now being compounded by all the demands and temptations of the holidays. For many it will result in a tipping point where we go into overload. And for some, that may mean colds and flu, weight gain or worse they become a statistic: since it was first measured in 1973, this is the time of year known as the Holiday Red Zone, when there are more cardiac deaths than any other time of the year.
These stresses come from all angles.
There are the mental emotional stresses of missing family members or having to spend time with those we would rather not; add financial stresses, travel stresses, deadlines, crowds, not enough sleep, and SAD seasonal depression. But wait, there is more! Let’s not forget the other dimensions of stress this time of the year: physical and chemical stresses.
There are the slips and falls on ice, shoveling of snow and the other side of that coin is how increasingly sedentary many folks become once winter hits. The increased use of devices resulting in Tech Neck postures only compounds the physical stress to the spine.
Chemical stresses come in the form of toxic and deficient foods, more alcohol and sugar and the increased use of drugs with all their side effects.
What is in charge of it all?
Do you know what system in your body is in charge of managing all these stresses? It is your nervous system! That’s right, your brain is in charge of running every function in your body by sending the messages down your spinal cord and out through the nerve roots to every cell and back again, so when you encounter any stress, it is your brain’s job to assess the situation and respond to it.
If it is a stress that you can easily manage, then you will use resources to address it while you continue to function in a state of ease. But if this stress appears to be too much for you to handle, you will go into plan B: fight/flight mode where you will reorganize your resources so that they are all going toward surviving the next minute.
Anytime we encounter a situation that threatens our four limited resources of time, energy, focus and money, we will respond just like our ancestors: we are hard wired to deal with stress. We will go into an adaptive physiology that was designed to keep us alive when a tiger was threatening us.
It looks like this: increase the heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar to get fuel out to the muscles so we can run like hell; turn off the other systems that would needlessly steal energy away from the running/ fighting muscles like digestion, reproduction and the immune system and get ready for an imminent injury by increasing clotting factors and cholesterol to repair injured tissue and make more stress hormones.
Hmmm…. sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen!
All of this is a perfect design to save your life as long as you get away from the stress in a few minutes and return to ease. But if the stress is a bad boss, or a bad relationship, and continues ongoing and even increases this time of the year, it can be deadly.
Each time the nervous system encounters stresses that are overloading, we can cause short circuits in our spine, causing or perpetuating what are known as vertebral subluxations, misalignments that interfere in the flow of messages between our brain and our body that then reduces our adaptability because it interferes with the proper function of our cells.
Stress Management in Shelburne: How’s that been working for you?
Since the 1980’s, the most common approach has been ‘stress management’, i.e., do whatever you can to avoid or get away from the stress or just start living around it… How has that been working for us? Well, the stats tell us that the Holiday Red Zone is not changing and that year-round stresses are increasing.
I would like to share my own personal best strategy here: to thrive in the presence of stress, rather than trying to manage it. What about the idea of increasing your own resiliency and tenacity, your ADAPTABILITY so that you can master, the current stresses and even greater ones, and just keep getting healthier and stronger.
Consider this, if you do proper strength training, you will stress your muscles to the point that they break down fibers and rebuild stronger ones. If you do it wrong, you either aren’t actually pushing yourself enough (deficient) or you injure yourself from too much or the wrong technique (toxic).
It is just like foods that can be healthy or not. If they aren’t healthy then they are either deficient in nutrients, or they can have toxic ingredients… or both!
Relationships or interactions with other members of our species can be healthy and affirming or they can be deficient or even toxic.
You are the hero here. But heroes need to take action, so before making your holiday shopping list, be proactive and make a start doing and stop doing list for each category of how you eat, move and think. Then use your will power AND WON’T POWER to set up the habits to make these changes stick.
Look. The best way to lose those 15 pounds gained from the holidays is to never put them on! This takes will power… and/or WON’T power!
So my strategy is this:
- Recognize what my current stresses are in all dimensions: physical, chemical and mental/emotional.
- Apply discipline to my choices of things I choose to engage or avoid (how I eat, move and think) using my will power and won’t power.
- Keep my nervous system as clear as possible so my adaptability is at its highest to allow me to deal with the stresses I can’t avoid.
This I know: our bodies are smart and we were designed to be healthy. With a little bit of discipline and a healthy spine and nervous system, we all can gain greater resiliency and tenacity to thrive in the presence of stresses and finish the year strong!
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