I personally love the holiday season at winter time. For myself, it includes quality time spent with family which becomes far and infrequent given the distance between us. I find that social gathering and emotional support provided by a sense of family can have a great effect on managing stress levels and improve my overall sense of personal health. A caveat is that the holiday season is also a time of pressing deadlines, financial burden and increased travel requirements. All of these outside influences from the holiday season can create an increase in overall stress experienced at this time of year, and this is not uncommon for much of the population.
As a physical therapist who maintains an active lifestyle, I am acutely aware of how stress affects overall health and physical performance. Stress comes from all types of sources including work, relationships, finances and injury. These constant low-level stressors place a state shift into what is called the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight-or-flight” response. This sympathetic state is characterized by an increase in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.1 It is a system historically adapted to fight acute stress (imagine being chased by a lion), that is now all too often a chronic and prolonged state that factors into a reduced immune system and chronic disease.2 The sympathetic nervous system is opposed to what is called the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” response. This is often the state shift created when we are tuned in to relax, sleep and properly digest our dietary meals.
Now take a moment and self-reflect upon your recent memory of your evaluation of sleep, relaxation and nutrition. Is it what it could be? Have you had difficulty sleeping and recovering from work and the holidays? Have you felt less focused and less in control of your chronic stressors? Don’t be afraid if the answer is yes, as this is very common.
As a one-part answer to creating a balance between high levels of a chronic sympathetic state, and our ability to relax, refocus and recover is the daily practice of meditation.3 It has become part of my practice habits to manage stress, increase recovery and regain control over my attention. Meditation is an ancient practice that incorporates mindfulness and breathing techniques to become aware of the present moment experiences. It has been researched and demonstrates positive effects of managing conditions such as anxiety and autoimmune illness.3 It is also a low-cost investment to help manage stress and build daily recovery habits.
Mindfulness meditation is also becoming an increasingly popular trend with new technologies bringing individual training to your smartphone or tablet. One that I use in my own daily habits is Headspace, 4 which has guided meditations to address anxiety, stress, sleep and pain management among many other topics that stretch into areas such as work performance and sport. Additional free options for guided meditation may be found through the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center5 and through Dr. Robert Siegel, 6 a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School (links provided in the references).
I hope you enjoyed a great holiday season as I did and don’t feel singled out if you are overwhelmed with stressors that enter our lives at this time of year. Take a moment to self-reflect and enjoy some of the resources provided to experiment a free practice to help balance your stress levels and take control of your recovery.
Dr Steven Babcock
Live Your LifeTM
Bringing Physical Therapy & Wellness to You!
Dr Steven Babcock has a passion for movement and is motivated to facilitate others in their journey towards physical performance goals. He obtained his undergraduate degree at Saint John’s University in 2008 and furthered his education in achieving a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 2015.
Dr Babcock has experience treating a variety of musculoskeletal complaints and utilizes Postural Restoration to help his patients obtain proper joint position required to train and perform at their best. He is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
As a lifelong enthusiast for exercise, health and wellness, Dr. Babcock has an infectious care to help others realize the power each individual possesses to take control of their personal health.
1Goldstein DS. Stress-induced activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Ballieres Clin Endoncrinol Metab. 1987 May;1(2):253-278 .Accessed 2 January 2018
2Hering D, Lachowska K, Schlaich M. Role of the sympathetic nervous system in stress-mediated cardiovascular disease. Curr Hypertens Rep. 2015 Oct; 17:(10)80. Accessed 2 January 2018
3Sharma H. Meditation: process and effects. Ayu. 2015 Jul-Sep; 36(3):233-237. Accessed 2 January 2018
4“Meditation and Mindfulness Made Simple.” Headspace, www.headspace.com/. Accessed 2 January 2018
5“Free Guided Meditations.” UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations Accessed 2 January 2018
6“Free Guided Meditations.” UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations. Accessed 2 January 2018