Relationships can spread stress.

The flurry of shopping, spending money, and traveling to see family can make stress feel inevitable during the holidays. Stress is contagious in relationships; here are some things you can do to support your partner and improve your own health during the holidays and beyond.

You may already be aware that stress can have a negative impact on your health, but you may not be aware that your stress and how you deal with it are spreading. Stress can spread to others, especially loved ones.

As a social-health psychologist, I have developed a model of how partners’ psychological and biological health are affected by stress. I have learned from that and other research that the quality of intimate relationships is important to people’s health.

Just a few examples: The cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems can all be altered by relationship stress. According to a study of newlyweds, couples who were critical, sarcastic, spoke in an unpleasant tone, and made aggravating facial expressions like eyerolls during a conflict had higher levels of stress hormones.

In a similar vein, a different study found that people in abusive relationships had a slower rate of wound healing, higher levels of inflammation, elevated blood pressure, and more frequent changes in heart rate during conflict. When their wives reported more stress, middle-aged and older men had higher blood pressure. When compared to partners who felt more appreciated and cared for, those who felt they weren’t understood or cared for had lower well-being and higher mortality rates 10 years later.

Conflict and cortisol Cortisol is a hormone that contributes significantly to the body’s response to stress. Since cortisol has a diurnal rhythm, its levels typically peak shortly after waking up and gradually decrease throughout the day. However, unhealthy cortisol patterns, such as low cortisol levels upon waking or a lack of significant tapering off by the end of the day, can result from chronic stress. An increase in the likelihood of disease development and death is linked to these patterns.

My colleagues and I discovered that couples’ cortisol levels changed on the day of conflict; Even four hours after the conflict had ended, people whose stressed partners engaged in negative behaviors during the conflict had higher cortisol levels.

These findings suggest that fighting with a partner who is already stressed out could have long-term effects on our biological health.

Managing stress During and after the holidays, here are three ways to reduce relationship stress.

First, talk to each other and validate each other. Let your partner know that you understand how they feel. Talk about big and small issues before they get out of hand. Partners sometimes cover up problems in order to protect one another, but doing so can actually make things worse. Don’t interrupt your partner when they express their own emotions. Keep in mind that feeling understood and cared for by a partner is beneficial to your emotional well-being and promotes healthier cortisol patterns; therefore, supporting one another and listening to one another can have positive health effects for both of you.

Show your love next. Be kind to one another and give each other hugs. Additionally, this can lower cortisol levels and improve your mood. According to one study, a happy relationship can even help boost vaccination response.

Then, keep in mind that you are a part of a team. Together, brainstorm solutions, encourage one another, and rejoice in victories. Couples who work together to deal with stress are happier and healthier in their relationships. Here are a few: When your partner is stressed, make dinner or run errands for them; unwind and think back together; or on the other hand attempt another eatery, dance or exercise class together.

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However, it is also true that sometimes these actions are insufficient. Still, many couples will require assistance overcoming obstacles and managing stress. Couples therapy teaches partners how to communicate and effectively resolve conflicts. Be proactive and seek assistance from a trained professional who is experienced in dealing with ongoing relationship issues.

So, this holiday season, hug your partner and let them know you’re there for them. Stop scowling at each other and take each other’s stress seriously. The stress itself is not the problem; It’s how you both deal with the stress together. During the holiday season and into the new year, the key to a happy and healthy relationship is working together as an open and honest team.

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