- Rosie Shrout *
- The Conversation
With the rush of shopping, spending money, and trips to see family, stress can feel inevitable on vacation.
You may already know that stress can affect your own health, but you may not realize that your stress, and how you handle it, is rubbing off on you. Your stress can spread especially, your loved ones.
As a psychosanitary psychologist, I have developed a model for how couples and their stress mutually influence biological and psychological health. Through that and other research, I have learned that the quality of intimate relationships is crucial to people’s health.
An example: stress in relationships can disrupt the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems. A study of newlyweds found that stress hormone levels were higher when couples were hostile during conflictThat is, when they were critical, sarcastic, they spoke with an unpleasant tone and used aggravating facial expressions such as rolling their eyes.
Also, in another study, people in hostile relationships had slower wound healing, increased inflammation, higher blood pressure, and greater changes in heart rate during conflict.
Middle-aged and older men had higher blood pressure at times when their wives reported increased stress. And couples who felt they were not being cared for or understood had a welfare poor and higher mortality rates 10 years later compared to those who felt more cared for and appreciated by their partners.
Conflict and cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone that plays a key role in the body’s response to stress.
Cortisol has a diurnal rhythm, so its levels are usually highest shortly after waking up; and then gradually decrease during the day. But chronic stress can lead to unhealthy cortisol patterns, such as low cortisol levels when you wake up or cortisol not dropping much at the end of the day.
These patterns are associated with an increase in the development of diseases and mortality risks.
My colleagues and I found that conflict altered couples’ cortisol levels the day they had a dispute: people with stressed partners who used negative behaviors during the conflict had higher cortisol levels even four hours after the conflict ended. .
These findings suggest that arguing with an already stressed partner could have long-lasting biological health effects.
Here are three ways you can reduce stress in your relationship, during and after the holidays.
First, talk and validate each other. Tell your partner that you understand their feelings. Talk about big and small things before they escalate.
Sometimes couples hide problems to protect each other, but this can actually make things worse. Share your feelings, and when your partner shares in return, don’t interrupt.
Remember that feeling cared for and understood by a partner is good for your emotional well-being and promotes healthier cortisol patterns, so being there for each other and listening to each other can have health effects on both you and your partner.
Then show your love. Hug each other, hold hands and be nice. This also lowers cortisol and can make you feel happier. One study found that a successful relationship can even help improve the response to vaccination.
Then remember that you are part of a team. Brainstorm solutions, be the cheerleaders for others, and celebrate victories together. Couples who come together to cope with stress are healthier and more satisfied with their relationships. For example: cook dinner or run errands when your partner is stressed, relax and reminisce together, or try a new restaurant, dance, or exercise class.
That said, it is also true that sometimes these steps are not enough. Many couples will continue to need help managing stress and overcoming difficulties.. Couples therapy helps partners learn to communicate and resolve conflicts effectively. It’s critical to be proactive and seek the help of someone who is trained to deal with ongoing relationship difficulties.
So this holiday season, tell your partner that you are there for her, preferably while hugging her. Take the stress of others seriously and don’t roll your eyes anymore. It is not so much the stress itself; it’s the way you both handle stress together.
Working as an open and honest team is the key ingredient to a healthy and happy relationship, both during the holiday season and into the new year.
*Rosie Shrout is an Adjunct Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University, USA.
This note originally appeared on The Conversation and is published here under a Creative Commons license. You can read the original article here.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.