Eat, Drink and Be Worried
Getting the better of the season and not letting it get the better of you
Christmas is by definition and by demonstration on television and social media, a beautiful time of the year. But it can also be an extremely challenging and stressful time for many, particularly in these difficult economic and polarising times. Navigating the finances, family, friends, festive occasions and feasts successfully requires some knowledge and know-how so you can ring in the new year with a celebration and not a cardiac incident.
Primary causes of Christmas stressors
The biggest threat to our health in these times has less to do with the age-old question of what they put in the ham and more to do with what we put into our minds and what we take out of our accounts. We tend to see January as the longest month of the year because we get paid earlier in December and spend faster than ever. Any bonus that we do get tends to go before it’s even settled into our account or put towards a better use. Aside from the finances, there’s the aspects of family encounters and regression. Returning to the family home can often evoke feelings of nostalgia which can give way to regression to that person you were in those times when you were simply the little brother or older sister; eroding all those years you’ve spent at seminars, retreats, University. Don’t regress!
Additionally, when employees and co-workers went off to holidays and the Great Christmas Beyond, the employer generally had very little contact with them until the new year. This meant that during this time, people would find the time and space to rest, reconnect socially and with themselves, being recharged for the next cycle of work (at least until Carnival). However, in this hyper-connected world, that’s seldom the case. When you combine the continuation of work-related stress, with the added incidents of traffic, economic woes, family struggles, late-nights and too much imbibing, it becomes the perfect formula for a health crisis.
Health impacts of stress
A 1999 US-based study by Robert A Kloner, MD, PhD, revealed there was indeed a connection between the festive holidays and coronary issue — that is, there is not only an increase in cardiac-related incidents in the season but there are discrete but direct peaks in cardiac deaths — one a Christmas and one a New Years Eve and both trends have been consistently worsening since.
“Awareness of the profound impact of the Christmas season on one’s wellbeing is key to combatting the various stressors,” notes Dr Safeeya Mohammed, Summit Chair of the 2019 WITS (Wellness Innovation Technology Sustainability) Summit + Ecosystem being held in Trinidad and Tobago. “These range from increased mental health dilemmas, family conflicts, heightened loneliness, alcohol misuse to domestic violence,” she explains further. The combined emotional stressors and overindulgence increases these risks, while delays in seeking treatment during the holidays can contribute towards this trend.
Dr Mohammed further advocates, “Recognising these symptoms of anxiety, palpitations, headaches, sleep disturbances, a compromised immune system is key to preventing the development of further complications, as stress over time can contribute to heart disease, stroke and cancer.”
This hyper-connected world further lends itself to the development of chronic stress, as there is seldom a time to disconnect. As a result of this, there is an increase in job-related accidents, higher levels of absenteeism, higher employee turnover, diminished productivity, and a direct increase in medical, legal, and insurance costs. In the US, stress is connected to an actual cost to the economy, in the region of US$300 billion dollars annually. “In national terms, think of the budgets being spent on healthcare and consider how much our present economic situation could be improved if we directed those funds towards investing in our people, preventing the onset of disease, rather than funding monthly medications or trying to save their lives when hospitalised at end-stage,” added Dr. Mohammed.
Solutions: Disconnect to Reconnect?
Many people in a corporate environment manage someone else in the organisation — so disconnecting is key. If you run or manage a company, the first rule is to observe and respect the holidays as they should be — holy or sacred days. These days are critical to everyone’s mental health without which you would find your employee’s productivity on the decline.
It’s important to remember that wellness is a continuous journey and though we all must enjoy our special ‘Trini Christmas’ replete with the all the food and fun, we must be mindful of moderation.
There are several approaches to achieving a happy holiday.
Firstly, disconnect from the devices and be present in the moment with your friends and family. Turn off those device notifications and resolve to only check in on work email as needed or early morning and late night. If you’re needed, someone will call. Respond to everything that happens in your present moment thoughtfully and not reactively — that goes for your mother- or father-in-law too. Do what you can and leave the rest to the elves–or tomorrow. There’s enough time. And above all set your own batteries to recharge. That way you can look forward to enjoying the season and maximising it best.
Addressing mental health issues and techniques to reduce stress are high on the priority for the WITS Summit + Ecosystem being held in April 2019. A version of this article originally appeared in the Guardian (TT) newspaper on 25 December 2018.