Holiday Stress: Linking Brain Activity and Anxiety

Holiday Stress: Linking Brain Activity and Anxiety

I know you’ve heard about it, holiday stress. Stress can cause the holidays to zoom by before we feel their presence. This zoom, is in part, about brain chemistry.

The brain remembers stress. Stress is primarily activated from the old part of the brain, the part that regulates the response to fear: fight, flight, or freeze.  When someone spends a good amount of time in a stressful situation this part of the brain remains charged. After some time the brain acclimates and does what it can to stay highly activated, it’s why some people feel like they are trying to find things to be stressful about. The brain is so used to firing from a stressed position, it continues to do so, it’s what feels normal.

The holidays in particular are full of memories. While many may be pleasant, let’s face it….not all are. Things happen when groups of people gather for a big event. Some people are bound to hurt feelings or have feelings hurt, others may feel left out, some might have a heightened sense of failure or failed expectations. For whatever reason, our brains might connect back to a previous place or time and might be reactivating.

So, what does someone do to realign brain chemistry? Luckily there are things. Focus on things that slow the mind down, it’s like retraining yourself. Things like meditating, yoga, gardening, and hiking are all things that affect the brain chemistry and move the energy from the reactive part of the brain up to the newer part of the brain, the frontal lobes. Therapy can also help. In my practice I combine EMDR with Art Therapy, two types of interventions that also slow the brain down. The brain needs to know that you are in control, it is not a situation of fight or flight.

This holiday season, try to slow down. Don’t let the energy of shopping and planning sped you up, this is only going to make you more stressed and less present. Starting slow and remaining slow will help you be present when those big holiday celebrations come.

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