Around the holidays most of us begin to feel an increase in stress. Whether it is because we need to buy gifts and don't have time or money, seeing family is difficult, or we don't have a family or somewhere to go. We have all been there. I speak a lot about stress because I believe stress is one of the most primal reactions our bodies have to underlying emotions. During stress our bodies decide to take on a life of their own with physiological reactions that can be uncomfortable and disruptive!
Most of us know how to handle stress that is low lying on the spectrum, but for the higher stress responses it can be difficult, especially in the moment, to retrieve our learned coping behaviors from our brains. During stress what is physiologically happening in our brains are that our emotional centers such as the Limbic System, comprised of the amygdala, thyalmus, cingulate gyrus, fornix, and hippocampus become overactive.
This over activity creates the stress responses in the rest of our body due to the consequential shutting down of our executive functioning center or the pre-frontal cortex. We call this the CEO of the brain. It controls reasoning, impulse control, critical thinking and decision making. All of which are more difficult to do when we are stressed! Going back to coping skills, it is important that we learn to practice certain skills BEFORE the stress occurs, just as you would warm-up or work out for a sporting event.
What are some coping skills? There are many to choose from and some work better for certain people than others.
1. Reading-this is a great way to distract your emotions as well as engage your pre-frontal cortex.
2. Walking-exercise releases dopamine, serotonin, and other endorphins that help us regulate our moods.
3. Meditating-this can come in the form of prayer, guided meditation, yoga or just sitting in silence
4. Mindfulness-this is a great way to get re-centered. A lot of ways to make this a functional exercise is to engage your 5 senses in things happening around you. This helps with concentration and bringing you back to the present, where stress takes us to the future.
5. Deep breathing-always a great choice to do whether you are in immediate crisis or not. Try breathing in for 4, holding for 3 and releasing for 7.
There are many other choices and exercises you can look up online. Remember through the holidays that stress is normal, but feeling uncomfortable doesn't have to be. Regain control of your body today!