The most common issue gym-goers have is that it’s hard to fit workouts in during the holidays. On top of that, this is known to be the most stressful time of the year because of all the shopping and deciding the perfect gift for your loved ones, hosting and attending family parties, home decorating, and other events during this time of year. Moreover, the cold weather and snow seem to add to people’s stress levels and make it even harder to make it to the gym. Unfortunately we can not avoid the extra responsibility we must take on along with work and other life events during this time, therefore we must attack this stress head-on in order to remain calm and actually enjoy the holidays while still taking care of ourselves and our wellness.`
One of the first and most important aspects to dealing with stress is to write your tasks and goals down on a piece of paper (or in your phone) in order ease the mind knowing that your thoughts and responsibilities are organized and physically present for you to remember. You have to head to the mall for Christmas shopping, pick up your kids at school and then have a holiday party in the evening, but you still want to fit in an exercise somewhere? Map out your day the night before so that you can fit in enough time to exercise.
If you are like most people, the mental and physical benefits of exercise are important to you; missing your routine workouts can make you angry and feel unaccomplished. According to a study done at the University of Liverpool, aerobic exercise training has antidepressant and anxiolytic effects which helps protect against harmful consequences of stress (Effects of Physical Activity and Exercise Training). These findings can be credited to improved blood circulation throughout the body including the brain, lowered blood pressure, and improved production of endorphins (neurotransmitters that act as chemical messengers). Exercise can regulate and improve the release of serotonin and dopamine, which are two hormones that play a heavy role in our mood, as well as, lower the production of adrenaline (fight or flight sympathetic response)—which at too high of levels can negatively effect our stress levels. Therefore, skipping your workouts will only add to your stress levels, so make sure to prioritize your cardio training!
Another effective way to deal with holiday stress is to practice yoga (take a class, have your physiologist teach you, or watch an instructional video online). In reality, yoga is mostly a combination of different stretches, postural corrections and functional movements to ease tension and relax the muscles of the body—so basically a good 10-20 minute session of stretching and deep breathing will do the trick. The most effective way to use yoga/stretching to ease stress would be to either start your day or end your day by stretching—but stretching at any point in the day is much better than nothing. Muscle tension, especially along the neck, can play a big role in effecting your mood and making you irritable. If you have any specific injuries along the neck or spine you should check with your doctor to see if you’re eligible for physical therapy or need to see a specialist, but if you are just tense or tight, try some of these stretches at home in a very slow manner to see if they help. Remember to always listen to your body! Muscle tension anywhere in the body may increase your stress, so find out where your muscles are the most tight, and ask a physiologist at Peak how to stretch out those muscles!
Follow this link for some helpful stretches to help relieve neck pain!
—By Anthony Locast
Salmon, Peter. “Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: a unifying theory.” Clinical psychology review 21.1 (2001): 33-61.
“The Effects of Physical Activity and Exercise Training on Psychological Stress and Well-Being in an Adolescent Population.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Elsevier, 29 May 2002, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/002239999290114H.