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HCA Midwest Health

De-stress the halls: How holiday stress can hurt your health

How to eliminate stress this holiday season.

November 27, 2023
A mother and daughter hug and smile while standing in their kitchen during Thanksgiving.

During the holiday season, most of us will add several responsibilities to our already hectic routines, leaving us tired and stressed out with little downtime to take care of ourselves. From chef and chauffeur to designated shopper and party planner, the added physical burdens and emotional stressors this time of year can exact a heavy price on our minds and bodies. 

Dr. Natasha Ahmed, a board-certified OB/GYN with Town Plaza Women's Health — a part of HCA Midwest Health — says because we may not have the time to slow down and address our own needs, stress can take a toll on our minds and bodies. 

Your body and stress 

Your period: “High stress levels can affect your menstrual cycle in many ways, from intensifying premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms to disrupting the timing of your monthly period,” Dr. Ahmed says. The stress hormone can cause you not to ovulate, which can lead to irregular periods. Your PMS symptoms also can seem more severe than usual, including mood swings that feel like depression. Women can also experience more severe levels of pain and lethargy. 

Vaginal health: Dr. Ahmed says high levels of stress can lower your body's natural defenses, leaving you at higher risk for yeast infections and other bacterial infections. Yeast infection symptoms include itching, burning, swelling, rashes, and thick, white, discharge around the vagina and vulva. 

Your mood: “Stress can make us moody, anxious, and generally on edge,” she says. For many women, their body's responses to extreme levels of stress can trigger mood-related conditions or worsen existing conditions.” Dr. Ahmed adds that women are at greater risk for developing anxiety disorders such as general anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

Fertility: “Stress can present a major obstacle for women who are trying to conceive,” Dr. Ahmed says. “The added pressure couples feel when struggling to become pregnant can further compound the frustration.” In addition, stress frequently lowers sex drive, causes feelings of distraction between couples, and can even cause physical discomfort due to vaginal dryness. 

Other body responses 

Dr. Ahmed says stress can affect a woman’s body in many ways. 

“Women under high stress can begin to display a number of physical symptoms that affect various parts of the body,” she says.  

Some of these symptoms include: 

Stomach and bowel issues: Women under stress sometimes experience stomach upset, nausea and diarrhea. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is also twice as common in women, and flare-ups can be triggered by stress. 

Heart problems: Prolonged stressful situations can lead to high blood pressure, resulting in an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. 

Headaches: Women are more prone to tension headaches and severe migraines than men, both of which are related to or worsened by stress. 

Ways to keep stress in check 

Dr. Ahmed says the best thing you can do when you're feeling overwhelmed by holiday stress is to reach out for help. Don't be afraid to ask a spouse, sibling, parent, or friend for support. Chances are, they are feeling the same way, too. 

“The key to making it through the holidays is to make choices that will eliminate the big stressors,” Dr Ahmed says. She offers shares steps designed to help you de-stress this holiday season. 

Keys to coping with holiday stress:

  1. Give yourself permission to stop
    • Make two kinds of cookies instead of six.
    • Stop doing a holiday chore you hate.
    • Unless it brings you joy, don’t do it.
  2. Choose you
    • Focus on being with friends and family.
    • Accept that cutting back is OK.
    • Choose not to stress yourself out.
  3. Run away from stressors
    • Stress is very contagious.
    • Holiday traditions are a perfect storm for stress.
    • Get away and rest before you overload.

Whether you’re looking to establish a relationship with a gynecologist, experiencing female-related issues, looking for contraception advice or planning to expand your family, our obstetrician gynecologists have the expertise to help. Find an HCA Midwest Health OB/GYN near you.

November 27, 2023

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