Around 70% of us feel a spike in stress over the festive season. But what does this mean for our health, and how can we tackle it?

Firstly, it’s important to understand stress and the impact on the brain. Stress can incorporate emotions and feelings, and there is a difference between the two. Emotions are the physical responses to a situation – a racing heart, butterflies in the stomach. Feelings are the mental result of these physical emotions – embarrassment, happiness.

Usually emotions come first, quickly followed by feelings. When you select a feeling, different chemicals are released into your brain, allowing you to react and deal with the situation.

Stress is a feeling, and the two chemicals released are norepinephrine and cortisol. Norepinephrine affects your calculated, rational and controlled thought. Cortisol damages cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain which forms new memories and allows you to access old ones.

The effects of norepinephrine explain why you might feel irrational or hyper-sensitive around a particular time as it’s probably the reaction to prolonged stress. Meanwhile, cortisol explains why, if you have gone through a particularly stressful time, the event can often feel like a blur and you have difficulty remembering it clearly.

There are 3 main approaches to tackling stress. The first is to practise deep breathing, exercise or muscle relaxation as a way of targeting the physical emotions, as these techniques can alter the chemicals within your body. Secondly, target the mind in order to deal with the feeling. This can be done by practising meditation or mindfulness. If you can rethink a stressful situation as instead being funny, or challenging, you can alter the chemical response in your brain.

And finally, good old-fashioned planning! If you can get to the root cause of your stress and really understand what it is about the festive season which triggers your stress, you can perhaps approach it differently this year. And don’t forget, GRAVITY sessions are a very important part of the day as they allow you to practise relaxation and help to release stress.