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Explanations

The festive season, stress and the sympathetic nervous system

Liz Blamire

10th January 2023

The festive season can be stressful! But how does stress affect the body? And can a lot of small stressors add up to a significant impact?

We all expect to feel rested after the Christmas and New Year break but it can actually leave us feeling burnt out. This is because stress, even from small stressors we experience when doing seemingly fun things like visiting family, has an impact on our physical body.

When our brain detects a stressor - for example, you anticipate an argument about food at the Christmas dinner table - your sympathetic nervous system is activated; what you might know as the fight or flight response. This releases adrenaline so your body begins working harder and becomes more alert. As a result more blood is pumped through your heart, your lungs increase their air intake, and your eyesight and hearing are enhanced. You may experience these changes as feeling sweaty and having a a racing or pounding chest or feeling nauseous.

When you experience chronic (long-term) stress, or lots of small stressors over a period of time, your body reacts by becoming even more sensitive to stress. this means your sympathetic nervous system only needs much smaller triggers for activation and you soon become burnt out.

The good news is, you can recover from burnout! Read this article for more information - Holiday burnout: why it happens – and three research-proven ways to help you recover

Learn more about the sympathetic nervous system in the video below.

Liz Blamire

Liz is the current tutor2u subject lead for Health and Social Care. She is a former NHS midwife, who has worked in community, birth centre and acute hospital settings. Liz is an SSAT Accredited Lead Practitioner, who has taught Health and Social Care in FE and secondary schools, where she was a successful HOD. Liz is an experienced senior examiner and author.

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