Denise McVey knows holiday stress all too well. To be sure, she loves the holidays: going caroling, shopping, buying cards, enjoying the first snow, and, most of all, loving the look of delight on her toddler’s face on Christmas morning. But as the days until the holidays dwindle and the lines at the mall get longer, McVey is so beset by season-induced stress that, when the New Year rolls around, she’s spent. “Colds, flu, you name it, every year I get it; I’ve had shingles eight times,” says the 40-year-old owner of a creative agency in Boonton, N.J.
Why do many people feel so much more stress at this time of year? We tend to blame worsening traffic, crowded malls, and incessant commercials pushing holiday consumption, but a key culprit is our own memories, according to Ronald Nathan, PhD, clinical professor at Albany Medical College in New York. “When we think about the holidays, we dwell on the past and what went wrong, or we romanticize it and make it impossible to re-create,” he says.
By Cody Lyon
Phones are ringing off the hook, your desk looks like a fire hazard and your computer screen just let you know you've got new mail. Out of nowhere comes your boss to ask you about that Excel document he'd wanted you to compile. Suddenly you're gripped by fear as you recall the question from that sweet-talking human-resources person in the days before you landed this new job: “How are your multitasking skills?”
The Rumor: People who multitask are more productive
The facts are...
He counsels people to carefully examine their thoughts and expectations, and not drive themselves crazy finding “the perfect gift” or planning “the perfect party.” “Instead,” he says, “lower your expectations, and overestimate -- rather than underestimate -- your time.”
Stress and the immune system
Easing up on yourself over the holidays is important because the connection between stress and illness is real, says Simon A. Rego, PsyD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and associate director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y.
“The controversy that stress causes disease is pretty much over. We’re now teasing out how stress does it,” he says. In fact, a new study explains how stress may weaken the immune system. Each cell contains a tiny “clock” called a telomere, which shortens each time the cell divides. To counter this effect, the body also produces an enzyme, telomerase, which protects the cell and prevents further shortening by adding more DNA to the end of the telomere.
So far, so good -- but under stress, the body pumps out cortisol, a hormone that suppresses this protective enzyme. The study found that people under chronic stress have shorter telomeres, which, researchers say, means they are more vulnerable to a host of ailments.