Stress is contagious and inevitable during the holidays
We may already be aware that stress has an impact on our health, but do we know that stress is contagious? Yes it can be, especially to our loved ones. Stress in relationships can feel unavoidable over the holidays with all the shopping, money spending, and traveling to see family. Here is how to cope with relationship stress.
Our immunological, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems can all be affected by relationship stress. Studies show that stress hormone levels were shown to be greater in newlyweds when couples were hostile during an argument. Stress is contagious in situations when the couple were critical to each other, caustic, or spoke in a negative tone and utilized irritating facial expressions.
Other studies show that during conflict, those in hostile relationships experience slower wound healing, more inflammation, higher blood pressure, and more heart rate variations. Higher blood pressure was found in middle-aged and elderly males when their partners reported more stress, clearly showing that stress is contagious. In comparison, partners who felt like they weren’t being cared for or understood had poorer well being and higher mortality rates than those who felt more cared-for and appreciated by their partners.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that regulates the body’s response to stress. Cortisol has a diurnal rhythm, therefore it is highest just after awakening and steadily decreases over the day. Chronic stress, on the other hand, might cause unhealthy cortisol patterns, such as low cortisol levels when you first wake up or cortisol that doesn’t taper off much by the end of the day. These patterns in relationship stress have been linked to a higher risk of disease and mortality.
There are findings that altered cortisol levels occur in couples the day of their disputes. Stressed partners who show negative behaviors had higher cortisol levels even four hours after the conflict had ended. Stress is contagious and we can’t take it lightly. Arguing with a stressed-out partner could have long-term biological consequences for both parties. It’s important that we aim to alleviate stress in relationships.
Some ways we can reduce stress in relationships is to communicate. Talk and validate each other. Vocally acknowledge your partner and tell them that you understand their feelings. Sharing feelings without interruption is crucial. Feeling cared for and understood by a spouse is beneficial to your emotional well-being and encourages healthy cortisol patterns, so being there for each other and listening can benefit and lessen relationship stress.
However, it’s also true that these actions aren’t always sufficient as some may require assistance in dealing with stress and overcoming obstacles. Couples therapy teaches partners how to successfully communicate and overcome disputes. Keep in mind this holiday season and into the new year that working as an open and honest team is essential to maintaining a healthy and happy relationship.