By guest writer, Linda M. Rio, MA, LMFT
For many in the Western world the “holidays” mean a time of gathering with family and friends, celebrating, eating, drinking, and, of course, the shopping. Those who relish every moment of Christmas, Chanukah or both may have a hard time understanding how others may find this season difficult, stressful, even depressing or worse.
But, how hard can it be for someone who has a tiny growth in their head (or adrenal gland), that is invisible to all except the most expert physicians, endure a time of merriment, festivities, and social pressures and to uphold long-held traditions? It can be hard!
The pituitary is part of the body’s stress response system. When this system is over-taxed life can be extremely difficult to endure. On a good day many pituitary patients struggle. Of course those lucky enough to get the kind of expert medical help that is needed hopefully find amazing relief. Some however, even post-surgery (especially shortly after) discover that they must monitor not only their hormone levels but also watch how emotional or physical stress affects them.
So here are some suggestions, or Pituitary Pointers, for more successfully managing holiday stress in spite of the additional chaos of the season.
Scale from 1 to 10 how you are feeling.
This sounds simple but can be effective. Think of 1 as how your body, mind, emotions feel as you are lying on a beautiful beach watching the waves and nothing else to do. If you don’t like beach scenes then picture another place where you’ve been that just brings a smile to your face and relaxing feeling to your body. Next think of (but only for a moment) what the opposite of this scene would be. The number 10 is something we’d all like to avoid! Now think about your own ability to handle stressful situations and what range you can really tolerate without feeling severe negative effects. Most people say once they hit a number 7, for example, they know they are about to ‘go over the edge’. So then…
Take a moment several times each day to just check-in with your body and your emotions. Hopefully start each day and end with just a brief observation of how you are doing. By taking just a small amount of time to just notice you can re-center yourself if your stress levels/numbers are becoming too high.
Let your family/friends know that your body is highly sensitive to stress. You might try telling them it is as if you are “allergic” to stress. This isn’t actually a medical term but those around you might understand the concept. There will likely be more acceptance when you don’t attend a family function or show-up with few/no presents for everyone :)
Don’t expect others to understand… or even to want to understand. Remember, most people probably only think of hormones as something women and adolescents have that makes them ‘crazy’. Holiday parties and family events are not times most folks will be in a mood to learn about your many physical and emotional ailments. Try to smile and not take this personally. Others also are just trying to have a good time and get through the season as best possible.
Develop a signal or code word to use with your spouse, significant other, or close friend that indicates when you need a break. It could be, “I’m at a 7”, or just need a “time-out”. If you discuss what this means in advance of going to a holiday party or attending a family event, your special person will just know that you need to get a way, lie down, leave or whatever you’ve pre-arranged. Having someone to act as your wing-man can even help you have less stress going into the situation knowing someone is there to have your back.
Make friends with your body… it’s the only one you’ve got! People with serious and/or chronic illnesses often spend a lifetime angry (and sad) with their own bodies, themselves. Learning to accept a physical condition while at the same time relentlessly pursuing as much health as possible can be a tricky balancing act. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving-up; it is coming to a place of peacefulness, which is less stressful.
Remember not all stress is bad! We need a certain amount of stress each day just to give us energy to do what we need to do. Each person must learn how much is good and tolerable for their body and that comparing to someone else does no good.
Savor what you can from the holiday season… let the rest go!
Linda M. Rio, MA, LMFT is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Camarillo, CA. Her book, The Hormone Factor in Mental Health: Bridging the Mind-Body Gap, features Sharmyn McGraw, Daniel Kelly, MD, and many other experts in endocrinology, medical family therapy, nutrition, and psychiatry as well as the actual words and stories from patients and their family members.