By Shelley Hill Young
The holidays are supposed to bring silent nights and tidings of comfort and joy. But creating that holiday spirit and spreading that cheer takes a lot of work, and it can be stressful. Holidays can usher in all kinds of stress: dealing with finances, hosting friends and family that you might not see often, making the holidays perfect for children and end-of-the-year work deadlines.
Let’s be honest here. There are times when all of us feel overwhelmed, when we know the stress is having a negative impact on our work and our relationships.
So before there’s too much more hustle and bustle and decking the halls, we want you to take a timeout from holly jolly and jingle bells for just a minute and reflect on your wellbeing.
We talked with a couple of experts on how to manage stress, and how to recognize when you’re feeling overwhelmed and might need help.
Pay Attention to What is Meaningful
We all know we’re supposed to eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and avoid drinking too much caffeine and alcohol. What’s difficult is following all that advice when time is already short and plates are already full. That’s when the stressful feelings tend to snowball out of control, making it seemingly more difficult to regain much-needed balance and perspective.
That’s when it can help to practice mindfulness techniques to help you focus on the present. “When we’re anxious, we kinda focus on the past or we’re worrying about the future,” says Alyssa Rheingold, a clinical psychologist and an associate director of the sleep and anxiety treatment program at MUSC’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
“Paying attention to what is meaningful and what you value can help you see the big picture.”
She also suggests having a notepad next to your bed. Writing your thoughts down when they wake you up at night can “free your mind, just a little bit.”
“Putting it down on paper can help distance yourself and look at it from a different perspective,” Alyssa says.
She says while stress is a response to an event, anxiety is your body’s response to stress. Anxiety is fueled by feelings of apprehension, nervousness and fear.
If managing your stress or anxiety begins to feel overwhelming and interferes with your ability to lead a meaningful life, that’s a sign that you need to seek some treatment, Alyssa says.
If the stress reduction techniques don’t work, it might be time to consider reframing your thoughts and changing how you respond to some situations. Alyssa notes that people who are experiencing anxiety may isolate themselves or do other things that may exacerbate the problem. There may be a tendency to try to predict the future or think in catastrophic terms.
Ask yourself: How would you advise a friend who is dealing with the same situation? “If your answer is different (from how you are reacting), that might be a sign that there’s some distortion.”
Shake it off and increase your capacity for compassion
When we saw Mission Yoga was hosting a workshop focused on stress, resilience, and tension and trauma releasing exercises, or TRE, we had to reach out to instructor Rachel Keener, who co-founded the Trauma Recovery Alliance in Asheville, North Carolina.
Rachel says that burnout from “being expected to be in so many places and doing so many things at one time” is one of the biggest reasons people tell her they are seeking help managing stress. She explains that often our bodies can get stuck in the fight-or-flight response to stress. “It’s kind of like having your foot on the gas all the time.” The tension-relieving exercises can allow us to rebalance our bodies so when the stress is gone we feel calmer and more focused.
Rachel leads people through a series of movements that allow the body to release deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma by stimulating a gentle, involuntary, shaking response. The idea behind the tension-relieving exercises, or TRE, is that after a traumatic event our bodies are supposed to release the tension through shaking and tremoring. This is the healing response that is observed in other mammals after a traumatic event. But, Rachel explains, humans have been conditioned to believe shaking is a sign of weakness, so we tend to tense up even more, unconsciously preventing our bodies from releasing the stress. Activating the shaking allows us to return to a state of calm and relaxation, according to the theory. Rachel says you feel as if you are shaking off surface stress, but the shaking is only enough to be re-energizing and not depleting.
Rachel shares the example of a woman she has worked with who received a call from her boss while she was in an airport. Something had gone wrong at work, and her boss was upset. The woman felt herself begin to tremor. Instead of trying to stop it, she took a deep breath and listened to her boss. She said she was able to think clearly, communicate without placing blame and talk calmly through solutions. In the past, the woman said her instincts and emotions might have taken over and she would have been more defensive.
“There’s no way to get away from triggers or difficult experiences, so the idea is it’s not so much that we avoid those things but that we have tools and resources to be able to engage with them in different ways,” Rachel says.
“It’s really empowering,” Rachel says.
In her own life, she’s been able to be more spontaneous and more open to laughter and joy. She says when your brain isn’t focused on your response to stress, other areas of it can be used. “That’s really a life-expanding experience.”
After leading people through the tension-relieving exercises, Rachel talks about the importance of compassionate self-care. She says people often try to protect themselves by minimizing their experience and telling themselves that it’s not that bad. Compassion, she says, comes from a place of wanting to relieve suffering. Once you take steps to heal, “the thing that opens up for us is to be able to look at the communities around us and be able to recognize the pain or experiences of other people.”
If You Go:
Mission Yoga, 125 Spring St.
Stress, resilience, and tension and trauma releasing exercises with Rachel Keener
12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 9
Reverb Yoga also is offering classes tailored to the busy holiday season, $15 for a drop-in session
Comfort and Joy sessions, this balanced session will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to (jingle bell) rock
5:30 p.m. Sundays
7 p.m. Mondays
6 p.m. Tuesdays
Detox and Decompress classes, promise an instrumental, super-chill playlist, breathing exercises for stress reduction and a bonus restorative pose prior to savanna
6 p.m. Wednesdays
6:30 p.m. Fridays
For more information, visit reverbcharleston.com.