Your holiday “to do” list is never ending. Your car breaks down. The kids are sick. You have a deadline at work. You are trying to balance family emotions and issues. Finances are tight. Your email inbox is overflowing and your cell phone is full of voicemails.  Sound familiar?

Especially during the holidays it is these little things, (and big things), that cause us stress and anxiety every day.

So what actually happens to your body under stress? When the body is put under stress it naturally moves  into a ‘fight or flight’ state, secreting the hormone cortisol. Small increases of cortisol have some positive effects – a quick burst of energy for survival reasons, heightened memory functions, lower sensitivity to pain, helps maintain homeostasis in the body, etc. While these effects of cortisol are important and helpful for the body in response to stress, it is then critical that the body’s ‘relaxation response’ be activated in order for your functions to return to normal after a stressful event. However, in our current fast-paced, high-stress culture, the body’s stress response is activated so often that it doesn’t always have the chance to return to normal – resulting in a state of chronic stress.

It is this persistent chronic state of stress that leads us beyond the short-term effects of stress to serious long term health issues. Stress is America’s Number 1 Health Problem! In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 75-90% of all doctor visits are stress-related.

According to The American Institute of Stress, there are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress, including: depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, gastrointestinal system disruptions (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome), increased risk of weight gain and obesity, insomnia. On top of that list, researchers and the AIS say that every part of the body is affected by chronic stress and that stress can play an aggravating role for almost any disease.

So what now? We cannot possibly all become hermits to avoid or rid ourselves of all the stressors in our lives. No one can avoid all stress, but you can counteract its’ effects by learning how to evoke the relaxation response to bring your system back into balance.

Research has shown one of the best ways to reduce stress is with exercise. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins – chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers – and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even breathing deeply can cause your body to produce endorphins. And conventional wisdom holds that a workout of low to moderate intensity makes you feel energized and healthy.

Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise, in particular, has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. In fact, just five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects!

So your best defense is to integrate healthy stress management and de-stress strategies (including aerobic exercise) into your daily routine. Schedule a set time once or twice a day to de-stress. Even if 5-15:00 is all you have, just do it!  You are worth it and your body and health will thank you. Make a bit of “you time” happen every day and keep your holidays happy!

Looking for more expert advice from our Master Trainer team? Check out our upcoming education classes and session near you!

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Helpful Resource: You can learn more about stress and how to manage it at:

About The Author

Master Trainer Sonja Friend-Uhl

Sonja is a world-class athlete who has trained people of all ages and abilities for nearly twenty years. She is also a skilled fitness programmer, holding Personal Training Certifications with ACSM, AFAA, and AFAA specialty certifications in Youth, Senior, and Pre-Natal Fitness. She is a certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, a Schwinn Power Cycling Instructor, a BoxMaster Master Trainer and an ACE Health Coach, which enables her to work with those in the allied health field in regards to high risk or specialized clientele.

Sonja is also a successful club operator and businesswoman, having developed and coached fitness and personal training programs while serving as the Athletic Director for the esteemed Wellbridge full service health clubs in South Florida. She received the Wellbridge Athletic Director of the Year aware twice during her tenure there. She also founded FIT Studio, a personal training and Pilates studio in West Palm Beach, FL.

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