22rd December 2014.
Three days from Christmas and I was feeling blue. I looked at Facebook and saw a stream of jubilant festive messages – people have done their shopping, presents are wrapped, turkey in the fridge, Christmas lights up etc. Everyone announcing to the world that the festive season is here and they are having a good time. A year after my father’s death, and I’m having a tropical Christmas. Recently mum has been unwell and we’ve come here to lift her spirits. But yesterday wasn’t a good day; first thing in the morning the heavens opened and we had torrential rain all day. Not a good day to put the Christmas lights up. Mum was sad too – the fact that dad’s birthday was on Christmas day makes it especially hard for her. To top it my daughter had one of her horrid migraines all day and all I could do was mop her brow with a cold flannel and watch her suffer the intense pain and nausea. As I said, not a good day.
This is wonderful time to celebrate with friends and family but the reality is that for some this period can be stressful and far from peaceful or joyful. Research indicates that many people get ill 48 to 72 hours into their holiday when the effects of running in overdrive in the run up to the holiday season finally take their toll. When your body is running in overdrive a part of the nervous system called the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is activated and the body starts to run in survival mode. You might feel tired but wired at the same time, restless and unable to relax and sleep, impatience and excessive busyness are also common symptoms of being in this mode. The body starts to run on the stress hormones – adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol – and while some people feel that this is when they are at their most effective, this ‘productivity’ comes at a cost. The healing part of the nervous system, the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) becomes depressed when you’re in overdrive but the trio of stress hormones very cleverly mask the symptoms so even though technically you might be ill in the days leading up to your holiday, you don’t feel the symptoms. When you stop, the body and mind start to decompress, adrenaline levels fall off and you start to allow the body to feel. Common symptoms of this decompression are of course colds and flu (and migraines) but there are some other ‘unusual’ symptoms to look out for:
- Increased dreaming as the mind relaxes. Dreams may also be easier to recall and more vivid
- Tetchiness and irritability – it might not be unusual to find yourself becoming easily irritated by your loved one. As you start to decompress, your heart opens and negative emotions may be released. Stay open and mindful about this and avoid blaming or feeling guilty; this is a natural and essential phase of the letting go and relaxation process
- Feelings of loneliness and sadness.
This last one is interesting; it is a time of the year when we almost feel the pressure to be happy (as everyone else is after all, aren’t they?) but don’t be surprised if you find yourself suddenly feeling sad and blue and sometimes for no particular reason. This is also that time when we miss our loved ones who have departed even more than ever and it is important to allow time and space for these feelings. In some cultures they even leave a place setting at the dinner table on Christmas day to acknowledge the absence of loved ones. The inclination might be to fill your time with excessive busyness (easy at this time of the year) or reach for your electronic devices for a quick hit of dopamine distraction – anything but allow yourself to feel. However, running away from negative emotions never works – they only accumulate in your body and mind and lead to illness and dis-ease. Acknowledge them, allow yourself to feel and know that they will pass. As the renowned poet Khalil Gibran says ‘Your joy is your sorrow unmasked’. You will be able to feel even more happiness and joy if you allow the sadness to bubble up and then disperse. Don’t close the door on feelings that are crying out to be expressed.
When I woke this morning, the storm had passed and the sun was shining. My daughter’s migraine had gone and mum had a smile on her face. I knew it was time to switch the Christmas lights on.
Yours in amazing health and energy and have a very Happy Christmas