How Holiday Stress Affects Your Body

by Kat Kuehl

The holidays are definitely my favorite time of year. But, with all of the shopping, entertaining, decorating, and family drama, I'll be the first to admit that this season can be pretty stressful. And, when preparing for all of the inevitable hustle, bustle, and anxiety, you might be wondering how holiday stress affects your body.

Unfortunately, you're probably all too familiar with stress — it's pretty much an unavoidable part of life. So, you already know that it can have a big impact on all different aspects of your health, including your body, your mood, and your behaviors. And, while the holidays are definitely a fun and jovial time, they also bring plenty of stress along. In fact, according to a poll by the American Psychological Association, almost a quarter of Americans report feeling "extreme stress" during the holidays.

What parts of the holidays stress people out most? The same poll shows that 69 percent of people feel stressed by a lack of time, 69 percent feel stressed by a lack of money, and 51 percent are stressed by the pressure to give or receive gifts.

Basically, this time of year is the perfect storm of holiday cheer and ridiculous stress. And, if you're going to make it through in one piece, it's important to be aware of the effects that stress and anxiety can have. Let's take a look at how your physical and mental health are impacted by holiday stress.

1. Muscle Aches

You might think that the physical symptoms of stress are so acute that you wouldn't even notice them. But, it turns out that a lot of your aches, pains, and annoyances can be attributed to stress. So, let's start with some of the most obvious: muscle aches and pains. That's right, your tense neck and shoulders aren't just caused by all of that present wrapping — they can actually be blamed on the high stress levels of the holidays.

2. Insomnia

Turns out, holiday stress can also literally keep you up at night, as higher stress levels can lead to both fatigue and insomnia — which is a pretty frustrating combination. And, that lack of sleep piled on top of stress can then lead to pesky tension headaches, making the physical symptoms related to holiday pressures even worse. As if all of that wasn't enough, chest pain and stomach upset are two other common symptoms of high stress.

3. Lethargy

Finally, the excessive drinking and overeating that comes along with the holidays can cause you to feel bloated, lethargic, and overall terrible. Make sure you are following up that glass of eggnog with a glass of water.

4. Sadness

Aside from just physical symptoms, we all know that stress can also wreak havoc on your attitude and emotions. You might have heard a lot about the "holiday blues," and brushed it off as something made up. But, in fact, it's definitely real, and it's something you should be aware of. With triggers such as feelings of loneliness, missing past holiday memories, and even Seasonal Affective Disorder, a melancholy feeling is all too common during the holidays. According to one survey, 45 percent of respondents actually say that they dread the holiday season — despite the fact that it's usually considered a joyous time.

5. Inability To Focus

What other mental symptoms might holiday stress bring along with it? A lack of motivation and focus is another common complaint, as well as a general feeling of restlessness. Finally, irritability, anger, and angry outbursts can be triggered by holiday stress as well, so try to take a deep breath, and try to avoid losing your cool in front of all of your family members.

Tips To Manage Holiday Stress

Now that you know how big of an impact stress can have on your overall health, you might be wondering what you can do to keep the fallout at bay. Luckily, there are tons of things you can do to manage your holiday stress. Here are a few things that can help:

  • Plan in advance: Remember how lack of time was one of the biggest contributors to holiday stress? Avoid that frazzled time crunch by sitting down, and planning out what needs to get done in advance. That way, you can tackle it all in a timely manner without feeling totally spread thin.
  • Set a realistic budget: Lack of money was another one of those big factors when it comes to feeling stressed. But, you don't need to feel like you have to blow your entire life's savings in order to get your loved ones something nice. Instead, set a strict and realistic budget for yourself to avoid getting in over your head financially.
  • Say no: The holidays come with a lot of pressures, and it's easy to feel like you need to enthusiastically say, "Yes!" to everything that comes your way. But, a big part of managing your stress during the holidays involves effectively managing your commitments. So, don't hesitate to turn down the things that don't excite you.
  • Take time for you: Yes, the holidays are a time for get-togethers and camaraderie. But, we all still need a little bit of personal time to decompress and recharge. Don't get so swept up in the holiday festivities that you neglect to take some time every now and then for yourself. It's crucial for keeping you balanced and healthy.

Images: Pixabay; Giphy (3)