What is Christmas stress? Physiologically it is the same stress that we have about any problem that we perceive to be greater than our resources to handle it.
The one thing that few of the stress writers talk about is how fast that stress response happens, which is at the speed of perception.
Dr. Daniel Amen says in his PBS talk that electrons move around in our heads at a speed of 268 mph, which is fast even without considering the short distance those electrons have to travel even if going from ear to ear.
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in his book, FLOW, says that we perceive packages of data every 1/18th second, and Paul Ekman,Ph.D. says that we can respond physiologically to a look of contempt in as fast as 1/25th second, and an eye blink takes all of 1/18th second, so stress physiology, whether it is from a thought about Christmas or a wolf at the door step is fast, and it is strong.
John Gottman,Ph.D. in his home version of his marriage counseling workshop called the Art and the Science of Love describes the physiology of stress as Diffuse Physiologic Arousal or DPA, and he says that the way to manage it is to take your pulse and if your pulse is over 100 beats per minute, the next thing to do is give yourself a time out.
If you are male, the time out needs to last at least 20 minutes, with close attention paid to your thinking, to eliminate recurring self-righteous or 'victim'thoughts, because males go further up the arousal ladder than women do and stay there longer.
So how can the Christmas season bring about a physiology or sustain a physiology which is designed to help us fight off life threatening danger, and how can we mediate or minimize it.
I see a lot of writers hearkening back to simpler times, and advising us to remember that the focus of the season is on the Birth of Christ, not on the Christmas parties, school pageants, or need to buy too many gifts and run up your credit card bills.
The one trouble with that advice is that it does not take into account the human orienting response. We switch our attention depending on movement in the environment, so I need to pay close attention to shifts in my attention, and pull back to my Christmas stress antidote thinking very frequently.
From a counseling perspective, handling Christmas stress is like handling any other stress, change the thought to change the feeling, or change the breathing pattern to change the physiology, and what is easy to forget is that one needs to monitor either their thinking or breathing or both, and if the thoughts return to stress thoughts or the breathing becomes shallow, then one must switch back to deep breathing or thoughts about appreciation to switch out of stress physiology.
How to Make Christmas Stress Management a Habit.
The best stress management tool that I know of, based on my experience of the 11th step of AA, is the Heartmath tool coupled with Open Focus from Les Fehmi,Ph.D.
The Heartmath tool allows me to learn an awareness of very subtle changes in the time between heart beats and to switch into a heart rate variability coherence.
I can literally change my physiology from stress to coherence, or relaxed (and vice versa if I want) in a heart beat, and with a bit of practice, I can learn to keep my body in this coherent state for longer and longer periods of time, even though there may be real wolves at my door, or not enough time in the Christmas season, or not enough money to tithe and buy gifts.
My physiology with stress is adrenalin and cortisol based, and with Heartmath, my physiology is based on DHEA, the antiaging hormone.
So Christmas stress is optional once I learn Heartmath.
Just out of curiosity, can you imagine everyone in your family getting on the same heart beat for the season, and if someone gets incoherent (stressed, angry, anxious, disappointed), the rest of the family can invite that person back to coherence?
By the way, the Heartmath process is based on research about the heart's own nervous system, and its own intelligence, which is an affiliative and cooperative intelligence, and intelligence which offers choice, rather than makes demands, or gives orders.
Can Heartmath impact test scores or influence emotional eating? Yes it can. Please check it out.
Would You Share Something That You Are Grateful For?
When I was beginning my personal growth journey, a wise person told me that when I was feeling resentful or afraid or sad, that I should remember the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was ready to feel better. That phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.