Stress is contagious in relationships | Kiowa County Press

Relationship stress can reach new heights during the holidays. Aaron Amat / iStock via Getty Images Plus

Rosie Shrout, Purdue University

With the hustle and bustle of shopping, spending, and trips to see family, stress can seem inevitable while on vacation.

You might already know that stress can affect your own health, but what you might not realize is that your stress – and the way you deal with it – is grabbing you. Your stress can spread, especially to those close to you.

As a social health psychologist, I developed a model of how partners and their stress influence each other’s psychological and biological health. Through this and my other research, I have learned that the quality of intimate relationships is crucial for the health of people.

Here’s just one example: Relationship stress can alter the immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems. A study of honeymooners found that stress hormone levels were higher when couples were hostile during conflict – that is, when they were critical, sarcastic, spoke in an obnoxious tone, and used aggravating facial expressions, such as rolled eyes.

Likewise, in another study, people in hostile relationships had slower healing, higher inflammation, higher blood pressure, and larger heart rate changes during the conflict. Middle-aged and older men had higher blood pressure at times when their wives reported greater stress. And partners who felt they were not being cared for or understood had poorer well-being and higher death rates 10 years later compared to those who felt more cared for and valued by their loved ones. partners.

“How to deal with the stress of the holidays? “

Conflict and cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that plays a key role in the body’s response to stress. Cortisol has a daytime rhythm, so its levels are usually highest soon after waking up and then gradually decline throughout the day. But chronic stress can lead to unhealthy cortisol patterns, such as low cortisol levels upon waking up or cortisol not dropping much at the end of the day. These patterns are associated with increased disease development and risk of death.

My colleagues and I have found that conflict alters couples’ cortisol levels on the day they argue; people with stressed partners who behaved negatively during the conflict had higher cortisol levels even four hours after the conflict ended.

These results suggest that arguing with an already stressed partner could have lasting biological effects on our health.

To manage stress

Here are three ways to reduce stress in your relationship, during and after the holidays.

First of all, discuss and validate each other. Let your partner know that you understand their feelings. Talk about big and small things before they escalate. Sometimes partners hide issues to protect themselves, but it can actually make things worse. Share your feelings and when your partner shares back, don’t interrupt. Remember, feeling supported and understood by a partner is good for your emotional well-being and promotes healthier cortisol patterns.

Then show your love. Hug each other, hold hands, and be nice. It also lowers cortisol and may make you happier. One study found that a good relationship can even help improve vaccine response.

Then remember that you are part of a team. Think about solutions, be each other’s cheerleaders and celebrate victories together. Couples who come together to fight stress are healthier and more satisfied with their relationships. Some examples: cook dinner or go shopping when your partner is stressed; relax and remember together; or try a new restaurant, dance class or exercise together.

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Having said that, it is also true that sometimes these steps are not enough. Many couples will still need help dealing with stress and overcoming difficulties. Couples therapy helps partners learn to communicate and effectively resolve conflicts. It is essential to be proactive and seek the help of someone who is trained to deal with ongoing relationship difficulties.

So this holiday season, let your partner know that you are there for them, preferably while you are hugging each other. Take each other’s stress seriously, and no more prying eyes. It’s not so much the stress itself; it’s how the two of you deal with stress together. Working as an open and honest team is the key ingredient in a healthy and happy relationship, during the holidays and at the start of the New Year.

The conversation

Rosie Shrout, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Purdue University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About Florence M. Sorensen

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