8 January 2016

Ethiopia: Experiencing Stress This Holiday Season?

opinion

For most of us, the holiday season is a joyful time spent with family and friends. But for others, it is a time of year when feelings of loneliness can reach their peak.

Holiday stress occurs when we expect bad things to happen. It is the sense of dread that things will be as bad, or worse, than we imagine them to be. Holiday stress is based on worries that there will be heavy traffic and crowds, people will be rude, or we will have to see people we do not want to see.

Some common worries experienced during the holiday season include the expectation of spending too much money, not having enough money to buy presents, problems organizing family gatherings and struggles to prepare meals in time. Many of us dread those moments when we are reminded of the loved ones we have lost and will miss this season. We also are worried because we expect the weather to be bad, travel plans to be chaotic and the atmosphere of family gatherings to be tense.

But expectation is a mind-set. We can have these expectations and fight them, thus creating our stress, or have these expectations and accept them, thus decreasing our stress.

Accepting the possibility of these challenges means facing reality, and doing so can bring relief. Accepting the reality of challenges inherent in the holiday season is key to diminishing stress. Accepting reality is also a sign of mental health. It's a way to quiet the noise in our head and broaden our perception of our surroundings.

Learning to adapt to different situations is another sign of mental health. If we expect bad traffic, give our self extra time to travel.

If our budget is limited, consider sentimental gifts we can make that go a long way; homemade ornaments, a framed picture, pressed leaves from home laminated into a book mark, planting a tree in someone's honor, or homemade coupons for our spouse .

If we will be seeing people who we do not want to see, be curious to see if it turns out as difficult as we thought. Curiosity is a healthy replacement for worry or dread. We assume that holidays will be stressful, and that's fine. But then be curious to see if it comes true. Be curious to see how the holidays unfold regarding what will we see, what food we will eat, what music we will hear, what is new with family members, what strangers we might meet while traveling, etc.

Let's hope for enjoyment this season and be curious to see if it comes true. After all, hope and curiosity do not disappoint.

Because stress tends to weigh people down, hindering their ability to celebrate and let loose, even on the holiday season. According to a new study, there is simple and cost-effective way to avert the effects of stress performing acts of kindness.

Daily activities can sometimes cause stress, posing serious negative impacts on the physical body, emotions and even mental health. Hence, reversing its effects is vital to promote holistic health and overall wellness.

In the study published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the researchers found that there is a natural way to help relieve the impact of stress on health, and that is through helping others.

The research, led by Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine, recruited 77 adults between the ages of 18 and 44 years old. The participants received an automated phone reminder every night for them to answer a daily assessment questionnaire.

Reports of stressful life events each day across aspects such as relationships, work, education, home, finance, health and accidents were recorded. In addition, they also reported showing various helpful behaviours towards others, performing acts of kindness. The consequent different emotions they experienced were also taken note of.

The researchers found that those who performed more acts of kindness throughout the day were less likely to report negative emotions. They were also able to maintain their positive emotions. However, during the days in which they were not able to perform kind acts, the participants reported a decrease in positive emotions in response to daily stressors.

"Our research shows that when we help others we can also help ourselves," Emily Ansell said in a press release.

"Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won't feel as poorly on stressful days," she added.

However, the researchers believe that further studies are needed to analyses the theory's applicability across diverse populations. In the meantime, however, Ansell says that as the holiday season's rush may impose high stress levels to people, the study will help people realize that simple acts of helping others may reduce stress.

"Findings suggest that affiliative behaviour may be an important component of coping with stress and indicate that engaging in pro-social behaviour might be an effective strategy for reducing the impact of stress on emotional functioning," the researchers concluded in the study.

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