Stress. It has become as much a marker of the holiday season as a Christmas tree or a Menorah, but it may not be as easily recognized. Stress is often misconceived as being something strictly negative, such as illness or divorce, when in fact stress may actually stem from a positive event.
Adrenal fatigue can occur when the body’s stress hormones fall out of balance, and it can cause symptoms such as sleep disruptions, fatigue, food cravings leading to weight gain, and anxiety. In fact, it’s estimated that 75-90% of all non-routine physicians’ office visits can be attributed to stress, either directly or indirectly. So, what’s the answer? Can stress be avoided during the holidays? Can stress ever be fully avoided?
It’s All About Managing
While total avoidance is a tall order, stress can be managed, much like any other health condition. Sharing close quarters with family and friends can be trying, even when relationships are optimal. Any significant disruption in the typical household routine can create stress. The rush to finish holiday shopping, coordinate large meals, prepare for company, or make travel plans can cause cortisol levels to shift and may throw the body into a state of adrenal fatigue.
Dr. Stacy Gee is a consultant pharmacist with Innovative Pharmacy Solutions in Edmond, and she works closely with patients dealing with endocrine imbalances such as adrenal fatigue. “The increased stress of the holiday season usually produces an increase in symptoms.” Dr. Gee and her patients, who receive comprehensive evaluations, discuss all aspects of functional endocrinology, including hormone balancing, diet, exercise, and lifestyle issues—all of which can affect overall health. “Everybody reacts to stressors differently. What I emphasize to each of my patients is the importance of listening to the body and not ignoring symptoms. Women in particular are more likely to put others’ needs before their own.”
Taking time out to decompress and reflect is important. Dr. Gee recommends that patients chart their symptoms and she requires them to fill out detailed medical history forms prior to their consultation. This background information helps identify specific stressors and dietary deficiencies. Saliva testing of cortisol levels in the morning, midday, evening, and bedtime is sometimes recommended to pinpoint when the imbalances occur during the day.
Ways to Reduce the Impact of Stress
There are many ways to reduce the negative effects of stress on the body, even if the source of stress can’t be completely removed. Lyra Heller, the co-founder of nutritional research and supplement company Metagenics International, recommends the following techniques to reduce stress:
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Choose foods with a low glycemic index to steady blood sugar levels.
- Journal and/or chart symptoms.
- Get adequate rest (7-8 hours of sleep nightly) and exercise.
- Supplement with a multivitamin and essential fatty acids.
Holiday stress may be a fact of life. Family obligations are a constant. But relief is possible when patients listen to their bodies and take the necessary actions to improve their symptoms. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the changes and demands that come with the season, take some time to consider your health!
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions. She holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in English from the University of Central Oklahoma. Shannon lives in Edmond with her husband and two daughters.