Practice 'Safe Stress' Over the Holidays

Reduce the emotional and physical tolls of the season

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SUNDAY, Nov. 27, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The demands of the season are upon you. And all that socializing, present shopping, decorating and feast preparations can turn this time of year into a stress fest that can affect your health.

"If you are not careful, the holidays take an emotional toll on the body, ranging from increased blood pressure to weakening your immune system," said Gina Kearney, a holistic nurse practitioner and site manager at the Integrative Care Center, affiliated with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

Though it's been widely known that stress can boost a person's heart rate and reduce the ability to fight colds, a new study says that even cholesterol levels can be affected.

According to a study by the University College London published in the November issue of the journal Health Psychology, increased cholesterol levels were found in men and women three years after they were subjected to stress-inducing tasks.

"Some of the participants show large increases even in the short term, while others show very little response," researcher Andrew Steptoe said in a prepared statement.

The research suggested that stress prompts the body to produce more energy in the form of fatty acids and glucose, which requires the liver to produce and secrete more low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the principal carrier of cholesterol in the blood.

Another possibility, the study noted, is that stress interferes with lipid clearance or that it increases production of inflammatory processes that increase lipid production.

Steptoe said that the stress-related cholesterol responses in the study volunteers weren't large but, "the levels are something to be concerned about. It does give us an opportunity to know whose cholesterol may rise in response to stress and give us a warning for those who may be more at risk for coronary heart disease."

So keep a cool head and follow these holiday-stress tips from the National Mental Health Association:

  • Set realistic goals. Plan ahead, shop and make travel plans early and pace yourself. This will help decrease last-minute anxiety.
  • Don't do everything on your own. Get everyone in the family to help with holiday tasks.
  • Scale down your expectations.
  • Manage your time and make sure you leave extra time for last minute changes or crises.
  • Try to relax. Deep breathing exercises, relaxation tapes, and gentle yoga are some techniques that may help you.
  • Exercise. If you already have a regular exercise routine, maintain it through the holidays.
  • Monitor your feelings and share them with a good friend. Even a quick phone call or email exchange can help you feel better.

More information

The National Mental Health Association has information about holiday stress and depression.

SOURCES: American Psychological Association, news release, Nov. 22, 2005; Hospital for Special Surgery, news release, Nov. 2, 2005;


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