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Will Thanksgiving Stress You Out or Calm You Down?

Will Thanksgiving Stress You Out or Calm You Down?

Stressed outI’d like to start today with a mini self-diagnostic. On scale of 1 to 5 where 1 = never and 5 = nonstop, how often do you feel…

  • ― Irritable, impatient, angry
  • ― Fearful, defensive
  • ― Anxious, stressed, worried
  • ― Frustrated, overwhelmed
  • ― Undervalued, let down.

If your total is 15 or higher, then you are in fight or flight mode, a state where the stress response is activated. More concretely, here’s what happens in the body:

  • Our resources are directed away from functions that aren’t related to immediate survival (like the digestive track and the pre-frontal cortex of the brain) and sent to our limbs so we can defend ourselves or run away.
  • As a result, we become at risk of suffering from poor digestion and lowered immune function.
  • The fight or flight response makes it harder to concentrate, analyze, problem-solve and make decisions.
  • The high concentration of stress hormones is irritating to the body, which makes us more irritable as well.
  • Cortisol is even known to kill brain cells, which is probably even scarier than what’s above.

In short, fight or flight is a reactive state that is very useful if we need to run away from an angry bear, but it seriously jeopardizes our health, happiness, and productivity if we live in constant fear of that bear! Really, not a good place to be.

As a wellness professional, you may already know how to get yourself back to a calmer state of mind. But how can you help someone else?

Heartfelt gratitudeThanksgiving

The best way to ease out of fight or flight is (drum roll, please!)… appreciation. When we give or receive gratitude, we get that warm and fuzzy feeling inside, which is our body’s way of saying that the good guys serotonin and oxytocin are at work, pausing the stress response at least temporarily. My friend and colleague Sean Doyle has a wonderful story about a person practicing gratitude in a time of downsizing and how it turned his world around.

This year, encourage everyone to make Thanksgiving about the mood rather than the food, as it is meant to be. We can write short notes to people we appreciate but haven’t thanked properly. Or we can give real appreciation to the people that put the feast on the table. We could even volunteer to clean up as a way to thank them. Or we can share appreciative stories about the people around the table, so they see how they add value to our lives. Need more ideas? Check out the gratitude book compiled by the editors of Positive Psychology News. It includes a couple of stories about Thanksgiving.

If you like this suggestion, pass it on to your peers, and be the wellness leader who will help others bounce out of fight or flight, and into health and performance!

On that note, let us thank YOU for being an important part of the SaS Community. We appreciate you! 😉

MJ Shaar – in 20 seconds


MJ is one of the most sought-after experts blending positive psychology and health promotion. She spent over 15 years coaching, teaching, speaking, researching and testing smart health habits. Marie-Josée Shaar received her undergrad at McGill University in Organizational Behavior, followed by a Master of Applied Positive Psychology at University of Pennsylvania. She's certified as a Wellness Culture Coach, a Personal Trainer, and a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant.

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