Are Holidays Bad For You?


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Thinking about every bite of homemade mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, rolls, pie, and cake I had, I am not proud of the amount of unnecessary food I ate during break. Even though it was nice to see my family, I find myself stressed because of the 5 pounds I undoubtedly gained and the $70 less I have in my bank account after black Friday/cyber Monday. I have noticed a pattern - I feel this way after every holiday, as my self-control is nowhere to be found.

Listening to Christmas music, you would never know that wintry times of "good cheer" stress people out. Over 90% of Americans say they stress about at least one aspect of the holidays, according to survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center (results were based on a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,013 adults). The top three things they worry about: crowds, gaining weight, and spending money.

The holidays seem to be a hurricane of vicious cycles. We have such high expectations for the holidays that are stressful when things don't go perfectly. We love the opportunity to eat food and celebrate with our families, but we dread the giving/getting the wrong gifts, and sometimes, when around our family and friends, emotionally eat more (and drink more alcohol) as a way to curb stress.

The holidays can trigger stress, depression, and anxiety, as well as severely affect people struggling with alcohol addiction. In the case of alcoholism, there are a lot of support articles on the internet for alcoholics to stay strong during the holidays, which leads me to believe alcoholics are more likely to drink more during holidays. As Drew Edwards from says, "Problem drinkers and alcoholics love the holidays because there are more social occasions to drink. They say they feel more "normal" because the occasional drinkers are also more likely to abuse alcohol during this time of year." Along the same lines, there are many support articles for people dealing with anxiety, encouraging them to stay strong and use coping mechanisms to deal with their anxiety during the holidays. Jocelyn Miller, PhD, goes into more detail about the triggers and effects of holiday stress here.

At this point in science, we know there are health risks to being overweight and being stressed.  There is even a health problem called "holiday heart syndrome." An abnormal heartbeat triggered by excessive drinking and big meals, this syndrome was named in 1978 after an observational study found it can cause heart disease.

Why do we continue to celebrate holidays every year if we find ourselves unable to control our unhealthy habits and are putting ourselves at health risks for more?

The answer: in a New York Times Article by Matt Killingsworth, he shared that after using an app to survey 20,000 people and having them report "how happy they feel at randomly selected moments during daily life, people were happiest around the holidays." The survey asked whether people felt very good or very bad, and it asked people at random moments in an attempt to measure general contentment for the day. Killingsworth observed: "even for people who do not celebrate Christmas, [Christmas] is the "happiest" day of the year by a significant margin, Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve are not too far behind."

As the first study only used a telephone and the second one only gathered data through a mobile app, the results limit the population representation to people with phones/smartphones. We cannot rely entirely on these studies to make a conclusion, but they give some answer to the question: are holidays bad for you? To me, I still think the benefits, like the happiness they generate, outweigh the cons of holidays. Do you think holidays are good or bad? Either way, do you think we as a society should make changes towards "healthier" holidays?

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