Eight Out of 10 Americans Anticipate Stress This Holiday Season

Unrealistic expectations, financial pressures among reasons individuals struggle

DAYTON, Ohio (November 12, 2013) – The holiday season: The radio may say it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but individuals’ stress levels usually prove something different.

More than eight out of 10 Americans anticipate stress during the holiday season, according to a poll conducted by the American Psychology Association (APA). Stress can be caused by a variety of factors such as financial pressure to purchase gifts or being a part of family gatherings where relationships are strained. The stress can also take on different forms including anxiety or depression. Increased stress during the holidays can lead to unhealthy stress management behaviors such as overeating and drinking to excess, the APA said.

“Stress is a response to circumstances that can threaten one’s well-being. The holiday is a time of year where the hustle and bustle can create circumstances that threaten one’s well-being, causing stressors to multiply and make a person feel as if they are off-center,” said Ann DeClue, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician in Lebanon. “While some things tend to stress many people out – job demands, relationship conflicts and hectic schedules – not every potential stressor causes stress in everyone. The same holds true during the holiday season. What might feel like difficult holiday preparations to one person may actually be enjoyable to another.”

Stress affects an individual’s health in different ways. The stress hormone – called cortisol – is released in an individual as their natural flight or fight response to a situation. Once released, the hormone can accelerate the heart and lung causing immediate changes such as increased heart rate or blood pressure and even long-term impacts such as weight gain. The hormone can also inhibit the stomach or upper intestinal track to function properly or have the opposite affect where one experiences bloating and diarrhea. Other symptoms of stress can be headaches, fatigue and irritability, Dr. DeClue said.

Stress has such an impact on one’s health that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) names stress management as one of the key ways to stay healthy during the holidays. Strong emotions such as fear, sadness or other symptoms of depression are normal, as long as they are temporary. But if these emotions last longer then the holiday season then it could be telling a different story, according to the CDC.

“Urgent intervention is needed if someone is having the idea of hurting oneself or someone else,” Dr. DeClue said. “There are many non-medical ways that stress can be treated without needing intervention, but people should see their physician if those avenues are not helping.”

Dr. DeClue said she often sees individuals come into her office experiencing symptoms of holiday stress, however, it is usually not the reason the patient made the appointment in the first place. Patients initially want to see her for symptoms – such as increased headaches – not realizing the source of the problem is rooted in the stress they are experiencing during the holidays.

Dr. DeClue provides these suggestions to individuals who think they might experience holiday stress: Plan the holiday you want, set priorities and stick with them, talk to family members about the most valuable way to spend time together and leave difficult interpersonal issues for a discussion at a later time. If loneliness is a stressor then try volunteering and avoid comparing the current holiday with the “good old days” of the past.

There are also unexpected stress relievers: “One of my favorites is to eat dark chocolate, which is a proven antidote to stress,” she said, noting that to receive its benefit chocolate should be minimally processed. “The cocoa beans are rich in flavonoids, an antioxidant that counteracts the anxiety-producing hormone cortisol.”

To learn more about the holiday stress or to find a doctor visit www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor.

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