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  • Kara Tolman, LCSW

Navigating Holiday Stress Within and Through Your Body

While everyone else appears to be celebrating, you may notice yourself struggling. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people said their stress level increases during the holidays. The holidays can be incredibly stressful for many different reasons- family engagements, added events to attend, additional financial stressors, pressure to perform for others, and the list goes on. You may be asking yourself why holiday stress seem to wreak more havoc on your body and mind than everyday stress?

During times of high stress, such as the holidays, our brain signals to our endocrine system to produce cortisol hormones to help increase our energy throughout the day. In addition, our central nervous system, when signaled by the brain during high stress, works with our adrenal glands to release a hormone called adrenalin. When adrenalin and cortisol hormones are released in our bodies during stressful times, we often see fight or flight symptoms such as an increase in heart rate, an increase of glucose levels in the blood stream, and an increase in respiration. Research states we can become ‘stuck’ in fight or flight states which over time can negatively impact our mental health.

Tuning into our body’s natural somatic response during the holiday season can help you manage stress levels in your body. When navigating stress, I often instruct my clients to ask themselves these 3 things:

1. What sensation in my body tells me that I am feeling this way?

2. What words can I use to describe these bodily sensations?

3. What emotion am I feeling?

Then, follow through with a physical comfort technique which aims to regulate your body responses and nervous system. An example is to try this:

1. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down.

2. Feel your feet on the floor or couch/bed/chair, and notice how they are being supported.

3. Rest your hands on your lap or belly; notice the feeling of your hands resting on your lap or on your belly.

4. Pay attention to how your hands and arms are being supported.

5. If you are sitting, notice your back being supported by the chair; if laying down, notice what is holding you and how that feels.

6. Adjust your posture until you find yourself feeling completely comfortable.

7. Use your senses to connect with sensations around the room (colors, shapes, sounds, smell)

8. Use your internal senses to connect with a pleasant sensation with you.

9. Draw your attention to each of those sensations for a few moments at a time.

10. Notice the physical and emotional comfort they generate.

This is a practice you can use daily during the holiday season as a tool to help you connect and release stress from your body.

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