By Rosie Shrout, Purdue University
With the hustle and bustle of shopping, spending money, and traveling to visit family, you can feel holiday stress.
You may already know how stress can affect your own health, but what you may not realize is that your stress – and the way you manage it – is starting. Your stress can spread all around, especially your loved ones.
As a social-health psychologist, I have developed a model of how partners and their stress affect each other’s biological and psychological health. Through that study and my other studies, I have learned that the quality of close relationships is very important to people’s health.
Here’s just one example: Relationship stress can alter the immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems. A study of newlyweds found that stress hormone levels were higher when couples were hostile during a conflict – i.e. when they criticized, sarcastically, spoke in an annoyed tone. and use more severe facial expressions, like rolling eyes.
Similarly, in another study, people with hostile relationships had slower wound healing, higher inflammation, higher blood pressure, and more altered heart rates during conflict. Men who were middle-aged and older had higher blood pressure at times when their wives reported more stress. And partners who felt they were not cared for or understood had worse health and higher mortality rates 10 years after compared with those who felt more cared for and appreciated by their partners.
“How to Deal with Holiday Stress.”
Conflict and cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone that plays an important role in the body’s stress response. Cortisol has a daytime rhythm, so its levels are usually highest soon after waking up and then decline throughout the day. But chronic stress can lead to unhealthy cortisol patterns, such as low cortisol levels upon waking or cortisol not dropping much at the end of the day. These patterns are associated with increased morbidity and mortality risk.
My colleagues and I found that conflict changed couples’ cortisol levels on the day they argued; people with stressful partners who used negative behaviors during the conflict had higher cortisol levels even four hours after the conflict ended.
These findings suggest that arguing with an already stressful partner can have lasting effects on our biological health.
Here are three ways you can reduce stress in your relationship, during and after the holidays.
First, let’s talk and confirm each other. Tell your partner that you understand their feelings. Talk about the big and small things before they escalate. Sometimes partners hide problems to protect each other, but this can really make things worse. Share your feelings, and when your partner responds, don’t interrupt. Remember, feeling cared for and understood by your partner is good for your mental health and promotes healthier cortisol patterns, so being together and listening to each other can have an impact. healthy for both you and your partner.
Next, show your love. Hug, hold hands and be kind. This lowers cortisol and can make you feel happier. One study found that a satisfying relationship can even help improve vaccination responses.
Then remind yourself that you are part of a team. Brainstorm solutions, be one another’s cheerleaders, and celebrate victory together. Couples who work together to deal with stress are healthier and more satisfied with their relationships. Some examples: Make dinner or run errands when your partner is stressed; relax and reminisce together; or try a new restaurant, dance, or exercise together.
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That said, it is also true that sometimes these steps are not enough. Many couples still need help managing stress and overcoming difficulties. Couples therapy helps partners learn to communicate and resolve conflicts effectively. It’s important to be proactive and seek help from someone trained to deal with ongoing relationship difficulties.
So this holiday season, tell your partner you’re there for them, preferably while you’re hugging. Take each other’s stress seriously, and ignore each other. It’s not too stressful in itself; That’s how you both manage stress together. Working as an open and honest team is vital to a healthy and happy relationship, during the holiday season and New Year.
Rosie Shrout, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Purdue University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.