The holidays are fast approaching and while it can be exciting, we’re all feeling some level of stress (even if it is because we are excited about the holidays) or depression.
The shopping, gift-getting, food and event planning, work scheduling, trying to maintain good fitness an eating habits and avoid the extra pounds – it can all seem impossible to manage. The impossibility of it all can make you tense, stiff, sleepless, restless, achy, and tired, making it even harder to deal with.
Here are some ways that massage therapy can help you cope with the holiday stress:
Massage therapy increases the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), otherwise called the ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system (NS). This is the opposite of what most people are used to functioning with, which is called the ‘fight or flight’ part, or the sympathetic NS (SNS).
Around this time of year, stress and depression levels are high because it feels like crunch time as the end of the year approaches. People take in less vitamin D, make less time for fitness and nutrition, and take less time to unwind, thus resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine. This is all thanks to the ‘fight or flight’ survival mode. These elevated stress hormones can negatively impact your body and mind in ways such as fatigue, irritability, aching, weakness, headaches, dizziness, and inhibited production of the happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin – to name a few.
Studies have shown increased levels of serotonin after massage for people of all ages (Field, Grizzle, et al.; Hernandez-Reif et al., in press; Ironson et al., 1996), therefore provoking a sense of increased well-being, relaxation, and decreased stress.
Promoting the function of the PNS can help decrease stress hormone production by decreasing blood pressure, increasing circulation, slowing your breathing rhythm, and reducing muscle tension brought on by stress. If your muscles feel tense, the vicious cycle of stress just continues.
Lastly, stress can keep us inside our heads and separate the mind and body connection. This is why something as simple as holding hands or hugging can increase positive feelings and calmness. Touch is comforting and soothing because it makes us feel as though we don’t have to carry the load on our shoulders alone. If simple touch can do this, imagine what massage can do for you.
Here are some additional tips on coping with the stress that can accompany the holidays:
Plan ahead. After Thanksgiving, there’s time to gather all that planning and ideas in your mind and write it down. Make a budget of what you can afford to devote to the holidays, a list of people you plan to buy or make gifts for, recipes you’d like to make, or any other things that may put a strain on your bank account. And don’t be hard on yourself if you need to keep it tight. Your family and friends love you and will love anything you offer, whether it be a sweater, some socks, a homemade card, or a hug. Cherish each other, not the stuff.
Be realistic and flexible. Remember that not every holiday season has to be as good or better than last year. Old traditions are wonderful, but don’t be shy to try to create new ones. People also change and grow, so try to grow with them. Don’t try to do too much. There’s no correct or perfect way to do the holidays, so roll with the punches and make it your own.
It’s ok to say no. It’s hard to fit everything in this time of year. Gatherings, dinners, parties, and outings can be hard to cram together in one month. Everyone else is dealing with this overwhelming dilemma as well, and will be understanding if instead of going to the annual Christmas bowling get-together, you want to stay home or finish something you started. As much as this is a time of giving, you only have so much you can give. Don’t forget about you this year and giving yourself the gift of you-time.
Remember that the holidays aren’t a happy time for some. Some people are reminded of sad memories of previous years or they don’t have a lot, if any, people to share the season with. Be forgiving of those that deal with Christmas differently than you, and if you’re one of those people that doesn’t particularly like this time of year or doesn’t celebrate – forgive yourself! It’s ok to not share in the holiday cheer if it just feels like another month in the year. Do what makes you happy. And if you’re struggling, reach out. You’re not alone and there are many outlets and networks to be there for you if you’re feeling the holiday blues. Many other people also have a hard time with this season.
Everything in moderation – including a little R & R. Be careful of giving in to peer pressure situations that make you feel like you need to eat or drink more, or that exercise is pointless because ‘you’ll just put on the weight anyway’. Use positive self-talk and motivate yourself to keep up a healthy routine so that maintaining your New Year’s resolutions doesn’t seem like an impossible feat.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on how massage therapy can help reduce your holiday stress and other ways to cope!
Please feel free to leave and comments or questions below! I’d love to hear your feedback!
And last but not least…Happy Holidays!
Articles referenced: Field, T, Ironson, G., Pickens, J., Nawrocki, T, Fox, N., Scafidi, E, Burman, I., & Schanberg, S. (1996). Massage therapy reduces anxiety and enhances EEG pattern of alertness and math computations. International Journal of Neuroscience, 86, 197-205.
Ironson, G., Field, T., Scafidi, E, Kumar, M., Patarca, R., Price, A., Goncalves, A., Hashimoto, M., Kumar, A., Burman, I., Tetenman, C., & Fletcher, M.A. (1996). Massage therapy is associated with enhancement of the immune systems cytotoxic capacity. International Journal of Neuroscience, 84, 205-218.