'Tis the Season: Managing Chronic Stress, the Holidays, and the Pandemic with Dr. Jennifer Love
How can someone tell whether they are experiencing chronic levels of stress? How has the change in the family structure affected the way that most will celebrate the holidays this year and affect the levels of chronic stress that we’re experiencing? We recently sat down with Dr. Jennifer Love to discuss how to manage chronic stress, especially during the holiday season and during this challenging year.
NEI: How can someone tell if they’re actually experiencing chronic levels of stress?
DR. LOVE: Well, the answer is so different for my colleagues than it is for my patients. Because we in medicine are so trained from day one. We sublimate, we push things aside, we keep calm and carry on. We are taught how not to freak out at really horrible things. And so we know we've all done shifts in the ER, we've all seen these really-- just things we could never tell her mothers about.
And so we are used to taking that all in and what happens is that our stress just slides from our brains. It has to go somewhere, and it gets into our bodies. And so that's when we start getting all the physical symptoms that I go through in my book-- hard time falling asleep, waking throughout the night muscle tension, clenching our jaws during sleep weight gain. We can have a shorter fuse, a lower mood. So there are tons of symptoms that indicate chronic stress, such as muscle cramps, dizziness, increased needs for caffeine, low sex drives due to hormone fluctuations. Everything is affected from head to toe because of chronic stress
NEI: What is one takeaway that you could share with us that people could put into practice, especially during the holidays and during this challenging time that would help build resiliency and reduce stress?
DR. LOVE: So I can tell you what I've been doing all of 2020. And there's, there's just a few different things, but it's all about controlling your cortisol. And one of the key components of that I love teaches people who aren't, often very adept at practicing mindfulness, practical ways of doing that. So I use the five senses. And you can do this at your home. You can do this at the beach. You can do this walking through the forest, you can do it in your bedroom. You could do it in your closet. If you don't have any personal space, you can do it in your office. You know, but I think about my senses and with my eyes-- what is my eye candy? So one for me is getting rid of clutter. We know studies show that clutter increases our cortisol. So I do a five minute clean every once in a while. It is amazing what you can do in five minutes. But for me, my eye candy is candles. I go look at my favorite Instagram pages. I have little fairy lights around my house, so, you know, I don't have these big, bright lights on. I just have like little soft lights, everywhere. I arrange flowers, so I get flowers every week. So it’s using your eyes to see things that bring you joy, and creating a space for that. And it can be very simple. When you think about sound—examples are listening to your favorite music, your baby's heartbeat, the sound of a purring cat.
For the sense of smell, I have a lavender linen spray that I can put on my sheets at night. Cooking spices, make me really happy. A hot cup of tea, which also gets into touch. A Christmas Garland, a favorite perfume or cologne or something. All of these senses can be very calming or remind us of lovely experiences.
I look at touch, and that warm mug in your hand or fuzzy socks, or your favorite flannel. Weighted blankets are all the rage right now. Your animals. Puppy kisses. It's really about focusing on the things, not just doing those things while your brain is wandering off to all the other things.
With taste, you want to stop and saver your favorite foods and think about the foods you're eating. And I mean, I'm a foodie, so I love doing this anyway. And I have a few friends who are foodies. So, that's easier for us for some than others, but think about your five senses and what are the things that you love and just start doing them.
For more on this topic, click on the link below for the full episode: 'Tis the Season: Managing Chronic Stress, the Holidays, and the Pandemic with Dr. Jennifer Love
Dr. Love is the co-author of When Crisis Strikes: 5 Steps to Heal Your Brain, Body, and Life from Chronic Stress. Stay up to date by following @dr_author_jennifer_love on Instagram.