13 Ways the Holidays Are Bad for Your Health
Discover all of the ways the holidays can affect your wellbeing, mentally and physically.
The holidays are a time to enjoy a much-needed break from work, relax in the company of family and friends, and look forward to what the New Year will bring. Or at least, that's what they should be. In reality though, the "most wonderful time of the year" can bring on a whole range of health issues, both mental and physical. From rising heart attacks rates to worsening depression, here's how the holidays are actually bad for your health.
Heart attack rates increase.
Though you might assume all that joy and cheer of the holidays is good for your heart, the opposite is actually true. In fact, one 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal found that Christmas Eve was associated with a 37 percent uptick in the number of heart attacks. The study authors note that older individuals and people with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to heart complications, so if you fall into either of these categories, be careful this Christmas!
Family stress weighs on your mind and body.
For many people, the holidays can be an incredibly stressful time. And unfortunately, that stress can sometimes come from time spent with family, with complicated dynamics and years of history rearing their ugly heads. In a 2015 survey by Healthline, for example, 65 percent of Gen Xers and 61 percent of millennials described their stress level as elevated during the holidays—and one of the biggest sources of stress for respondents? "Family drama."
Another 2018 survey conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with Omeprazole ODT came to a similar conclusion when they discovered that one of the top sources of holiday stress among respondents was "participating in conversation with family and friends." Understandably, those discussions about politics and past incidents aren't exactly inspiring inner peace! And we don't have to tell you how bad stress is for your mind, body, and soul.
Loneliness sets in.
While some people get stressed out by their family members during the holidays, others sadly don't have family members to get stressed out by. A 2019 survey by Age U.K. found that Christmas was the loneliest time of the year for more than 1.5 million older people, with 23 percent of those surveyed saying it brings back too many memories of loved ones they've lost. If you know of someone who has no one to spend the holidays with this season, reach out and offer them a place to go—after all, one 2018 survey conducted by health insurer Cigna found that being lonely is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
Flu season is in full swing.
The holidays are right in the middle of flu season, with the illness becoming increasingly prevalent in October and typically peaking between December and February, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The flu is rife during the winter months for a combination of reasons, notes WebMD. For starters, the virus survives longer in less humid indoor environments. And of course, during the winter, people spend more time indoors—typically in close proximity to other people—making it easier for the influenza virus to spread. Since there's no time of year when you get closer to your nearest and dearest than you do during the holidays, the flu just goes around and around.
And the stomach flu is common, too.
Not to be confused with the flu, the stomach flu is also common during the holiday season. It's caused by the highly contagious norovirus, of which outbreaks are most commonly seen from November through April, according to the CDC.
Norovirus spreads via contaminated food and surfaces, so Christmas leftovers pose a real risk. To avoid getting sick this season, the CDC advises refrigerating perishable food within two hours and never thawing frozen leftovers on the counter since bacteria multiplies quickly at room temperature.
Seasonal depression strikes.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is described by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as "a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall or early winter." Common symptoms of SAD include having low energy, hypersomnia (excessive time sleeping or sleepiness), overeating, and social withdrawal. Of course, depression—whether seasonal or major depressive disorder—can wreak all kinds of havoc on your physical health too, increasing your blood pressure, your risk of heart disease, and triggering migraines, too.
And clinical depression can get worse.
If you have major depressive disorder or clinical depression, high expectations, money worries, and social pressure to be in a constant state of joy can all lead to a depressive episode during the holidays, according to the Mayo Clinic. "For those managing depression who may already be struggling with symptoms of fatigue, irritability, sadness, and feeling unable to cope with change or additional stress, the result of all the additional stress of the holidays can be simply feeling unable to meet those expectations, which can unfortunately lead to increased feelings of depression," psychologist Anita Sanz, PhD, wrote on Quora.
Social anxiety takes the fun out of parties.
Social anxiety disorder affects more than 15 million American adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And while it's not a seasonal condition, the holidays can be particularly challenging for those with anxiety. Between office parties, large family get-togethers, and other events, social gatherings tend to be a staple during this time of year. What's more, people are expected to accept invitations and attend every soirée—even if it's secretly their worst nightmare. If you know someone who has social anxiety, be understanding if they turn down an invite to your holiday party. Those with anxiety who put themselves in difficult situations time and time again can be faced with headaches, dizziness, and rapid heart rate, according to Healthline.
Cholesterol levels spike.
Pay attention to your cholesterol this holiday season. When scientists in Denmark tested the cholesterol levels of more than 25,000 Danes in 2018 and looked for seasonal variations in the results, they found that average levels of total cholesterol were 15 percent higher from December to January than they were in May and June. Levels of LDL cholesterol—the so-called "bad" cholesterol—also rose by 20 percent during this same period. And, as the Mayo Clinic explains, high cholesterol, which can cause artery blockage, puts you at risk for a whole host of health concerns, including heart attack and stroke.
Binge drinking takes its toll.
Binge drinking during the holidays is a big public health issue, notes Alcohol.org. But a 2013 survey commissioned by Caron Treatment Centers found that many people "have no sense of how much alcohol is healthy to consume or how it impairs them when they go past that low-risk limit," as Harris Stratyner, PhD, regional clinical vice president of Caron Treatment Centers, explained in a statement. For your own knowledge, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or higher. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks or when women consume four or more drinks in a two-hour window.
Caron Treatment Centers also reported that 60 percent of adults who attend holiday parties "witnessed dangerous and even illegal behavior." Of course, one wild night will lead to one wildly awful hangover—but over time, binge drinking can lead to any number of health issues, from heart disease to brain damage, notes U.S. News and World Report.
And overeating has unpleasant consequences.
With so much delicious festive food to choose from, it's easy to overindulge during the holidays. But when you do, your stomach grows way beyond its normal size to adjust, which pushes against other organs and causes discomfort, according to the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. And to try to break down the food you eat, your body produces hydrochloric acid, which can back up into the esophagus if you eat too much. The result is heartburn, which is never a treat. Other unpleasant side effects of overeating are excess gas, sweating, and dizziness.
Festive traditions can be dangerous.
The last place anyone wants to be over the holidays is the E.R. And yet, many people end up there when they should be celebrating. According to an analysis by Insurance Quotes based on data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), there were a whopping 845,000 holiday-related injuries during the week of Christmas between 2006 and 2016. So be careful while stringing up lights or taking them down, when cooking the Christmas ham, and while carving it, too!
And people put off getting medical help, which only makes their illnesses worse.
Sometimes people get sick over the holidays and what makes matters worse is that they don't get medical help. This might be because they're in another city or state, are simply too busy, or don't want to bother their doctor on their days off.
"Don't ever delay care, especially if you have a new symptom that may be life-threatening," says Caesar Djavaherian, MD, an emergency room doctor and co-founder of Carbon Health. "In the emergency department, we have all taken care of too many people who [have] delayed care and ended up dying from heart attacks, sepsis, and stroke because they didn't want to seek care during the holidays."