The season to be jolly can easily turn into the season to be stressed and sick, health researchers at University of Birmingham are warning. Getting less sleep, more alcohol and poor dietary choices, a breakdown in usual routines, and pressure to be the perfect host “can all combine to create a very real risk” of illness around the holidays.
Earlier research has shown that smaller stressful events can lead to the same negative health consequences caused by major events like grief, job loss or serious illness. Researchers have previously observed a phenomenon known as the four day desirability dip —when people seem to experience fewer mood enhancing events four days prior to getting sick, suggesting that smaller stressful events can lead to illness.
“At Christmas, when we are trying to do everything, or get everything finished at work before the break, there can be a dip in desirable events and a rise in negative mood, caused by the varying pressures we all find ourselves under, such as financial worries, time constraints and a lack of support from friends or family,” explained Dr. Anna Phillips, Reader in Behavioural Medicine at the School of Spots, Exercise, and Rehabilitation Sciences at University of Birmingham in the UK.
“These kinds of worries, when built up, can, quite literally make us ill, as the stress from these events affects the balance of the body’s hormones.”
Stress has been tied to a deficiency in an antibody called secretary immunoglobulin A (SIga), which inhibits the body’s response to infection. Stress also causes the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, which increases inflammation. At the same time, the adrenal glands release more of a hormone called dehydroepiandrosterone
(DHEA) in order to counter the negative effects cortisol has on the immune system. However, people over the age of 30 begin to produce less DHEA, and severe stress can lead to higher cortisol: DHEA ratios.
For people with musculoskeletal injuries or chronic pain, that additional stress can cause flare ups and worsening symptoms.
Dr. Phillips recommended that people take care of themselves by enlisting friends and family for help, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising. Getting some hands-on therapy could also help. Chiropractic adjustments have also been found to lower cortisol levels, reduce blood pressure, and increase antibodies to bolster immunity.
Christmas really can make you ill, leading academic warns. University of Birmingham.