The radio streams out peppy holiday tunes, but the kids are fighting in the backseat of the car.

The ding on your iPhone signals that the dog needs to be picked up from the groomer, but now that dreaded click-click-click of the ignition is telling you that the cold has killed your car battery. Again.

Meanwhile, your brother-in-law's crack about another holiday meal with clumpy gravy is still ringing in your ears.

Under this onslaught of holiday stimuli, stress hormones — surging though your blood after your brain signals your anxiety — can make you feel the holidays are getting the best of you.

"So you walk into that busy Macy's, and there are lights and sounds and all these things are interacting with that laundry list of things you need to get done," said Moriah Thomason, a neuroscientist at Wayne State University's Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development. "You feel like you're in a frenzy, but you're still walking around on the same legs that carry you around all the time. It's the same store."

At 40, Carrie Leach felt that onslaught of senses, even if there are no lions roaming around her Detroit office.

Rather, she was coordinating a 160-person conference in her new job at the Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors at Wayne State University — her first-ever conference, even as she had to finalize major papers due for her doctorate degree.

In addition to the full-time job and studies, she lectures each week at Wayne State. And she and her husband, Jason, will host more than a dozen friends at their house this Thanksgiving.

"My husband is at the receiving end of my stress which intersects with everything in his life, and that's not good for anybody," she said.

And then there are those who "catastrophise," said Robin Edelstein, a University of Michigan psychology professor and researcher. Edelstein studies how we react differently to stress.

For them, a simple detour from the expected and all is lost.

So you feel like " 'so it's snowing and everything's ruined' or 'I burned the turkey and no one will ever want to come again.' " she said.

The good news is that identifying your stress triggers, avoiding them, and finding ways to "reboot" can be easy, quick and — perhaps best news of all if you have a long holiday shopping list — low-cost or even free.


Read the full article "Understanding the science behind stress helps you cope" at the Detroit Free Press.