Tuesday, 11 December 2012

'Tis the Season to be Jolly.... Or Is It? Science Tells Us Why and How People Get Stressed at Christmas

If you're anything like me, you'll have noticed that, on the stroke of midnight on Friday 30th November, something changed. Let me explain. I usually pop to the supermarket on a Friday morning to pick up whatever I need for the weekend, and it's usually calm, civilised and generally a pleasant thing to go and do for half an hour. I might even grab a coffee and a bacon, egg and mushroom sandwich while I'm there.

But on this Friday, it was nothing like it. I promise you, this is the truth: there were couples arguing about packs of cheese in the middle of the dairy aisle; there was a man shouting down his mobile phone in the toys aisle about which Monster High doll to buy, and there were people everywhere bashing trollies into one another and literally pushing each other out of the way to reach the mince pies and stollen. This is because it is nearly Christmas.

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The pre-Christmas trolley dash... (image by Sainsbury's)

At about the same time the fifth person crashed their trolley into mine and shot me a tense glare, I wondered what had happened. Surely it's the season to be jolly, right? Well that's what all the songs say. When I got home, I did a bit of homework. There have actually been quite a few scientific studies into why and how people get so stressed out at Christmas time and I thought I'd share them with you. So if you're stressed, you're not alone. And if you know someone who seems to be more stressed than usual, go easy on them. It's probably just a Christmas thing. These studies really surprised me.

Science proves Christmas shopping stresses us out
A study by the University of East London in 2008 found that Christmas shopping really does increase our blood pressure and stress levels. Researchers gave men and women a shopping list and asked them to return with the items, in the Christmas shopping rush. They tested stress levels, blood pressure and heart rate before and after the shopping. They found that men returned from the shops with double the stress levels they went in with, while women's stress levels had tripled. They also found that blood pressure increased for 50% of the subjects and heart rates generally increased by 10%. This will explain why so many log on nowadays and shop online. Incidentally, a study by Babychild.org.uk in 2010 also found that 68% of mothers described themselves as 'very stressed' over Christmas.

Christmas can be bad for relationships
You know those adverts where couples are laughing lovingly together near a roaring fire, about that bad Christmas jumper? Well, on the inside, there could be a lot more going on, it seems. A study by American law firm Seddons in 2011 found that the average couple argued four times a day during December. Of those people that were questioned by the firm, 20% said they doubted their relationship would last the festive season. They blamed money, entertaining and sharing the stress of Christmas. And it's not just couples. Tripadvisor polled people in 2009 about family time over Christmas. 40% said that they felt pressured to spend time with relatives over Christmas and 31% said they were actively worried about arguing with another family member over Christmas time. 

Do you think we put too much pressure on ourselves over Christmas? I think it's really important to have a bit of down time for yourself when Christmas 'stuff' is all going on. Nip out for a walk (not near the shops), turn off your mobile for 10 minutes and sit down, watch TV or listen to some music. Make a list of what needs doing and cross everything off as you go. Shop online. Now I know about all this, I'll feel differently when a tense, muttering shopper bashes their trolley into mine.  

What do you think? Why do we stress ourselves out so much at Christmas time? What can people do to ease stress levels and worry at this time of year? Do you get stressed at Christmas? Or take it all in your stride? Let me know!



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