Holiday Stress Puts Women's Health at Risk

Added Holiday Stress Increases Women’s Reliance on Unhealthy Behaviors

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association Offers Tips to Deal with Holiday Stressors

In the pursuit of the perfect holiday, expectations of happiness are often unrealistically high. Contrary to the image of relaxation and joy, many people experience an increase in stress during the holidays. Women are especially affected by the rush and pressure of the holiday season–in a 2006 survey on holiday stress, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that women are more likely than men to report heightened stress levels during the holiday season as well as being less likely to take time to relax or manage that stress in healthy ways.

Juggling work and added family responsibilities, such as planning for holiday gatherings, shopping for gifts and cooking, leave most women feeling like they can’t take time to relax. Survey findings show that added holiday stress, on top of already disproportionately high stress levels in women year-round, make it hard for women to relax, and increases the likelihood that they will turn to detrimental behaviors, such as overeating (41 percent) or excess drinking (28 percent).

“People who cope with stress by leading an unhealthy lifestyle, regardless of the time of year, may alleviate symptoms of stress in the short term, but end up creating significant health problems in the long run, and, ironically, more stress,” says psychologist, Dr. Andrea Delligatti, President of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. “Research shows that stress, and the unhealthy behaviors people use to manage it, contribute to some of our country’s biggest health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So it’s imperative that people take steps to address issues like holiday stress in healthier ways.” 

“My advice is to pay attention to what causes stress and to find healthy ways to manage it,” says Dr. Delligatti.“ Everyone responds to their stress in some way. The key is handling stress in a manner that doesn’t make things worse.”

 The Pennsylvania Psychological Association recommends these tips to help deal with holiday stressors and build resilience:

Define holiday stress. How do you experience stress? Does that experience change during the holidays? Different people experience stress differently. How do you know when you are stressed?

Identify holiday stressors. What holiday events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to work, home, relationships or something else?

Recognize how you deal with stress. Determine if you are relying on unhealthy behaviors like smoking or eating to manage stress. Is this a behavior you rely on year-round, or is it specific to holiday stress?

Change one behavior at a time. Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time. Replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Start small and focus on changing one behavior.

Take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself during the holiday season helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with stress. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in holiday activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Eat healthy. Make sure you get enough rest and sleep.

Ask for support. Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens your resilience and ability to manage stress. Use the holidays as a time to reconnect with friends and family and strengthen your support network. If you feel overwhelmed by stress, then consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies to help you manage stress, change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.

To learn more about stress and mind/body health, visit the Pennsylvania Psychological Association’s Web site,, or the American Psychological Association’s Consumer Help Center at