December 12, 2006

APA Survey Shows Holiday Stress Putting Women's Health at Risk

Added holiday stress increases women's reliance on unhealthy behaviors more often than men

WASHINGTON -- Nearly half of all women in the United States experience heightened stress during the holidays at great risk to the health of their minds and bodies, according to a national survey released today by the American Psychological Association (APA). Compared to previous surveys on stress, APA found that women are actually doing less to address the increased stress of the holiday season. Despite repeated warnings about the effects of stress on both psychological and physical health, women are relying more on unhealthy behaviors to manage stress during the holidays and the rest of the year.

Juggling work and added family responsibilities, such as planning for holiday gatherings, shopping for gifts and cooking, leave most women feeling like they can't take time to relax during the crunch to get everything done for the holidays. Survey findings show that added holiday stress, on top of already disproportionately high stress levels in women year-round, makes it hard for women to relax. This increases the likelihood that they will turn to unhealthy behaviors like using food to deal with stress (41 percent) or drinking alcohol (28 percent).

"People who cope with stress by engaging in unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle, regardless of the time of year, may alleviate symptoms of stress in the short term, but end up creating significant health problems in the long run, and, ironically, more stress," says Russ Newman, Ph.D., J.D., executive director for professional practice, APA. "Research shows that stress, and the unhealthy behaviors people use to manage it, contribute to some of our country's biggest health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So it's imperative that people take steps to address issues like holiday stress in healthier ways."

A national stress survey conducted by APA in January 2006 found that, during the year, 31 percent of women turn to food to manage stress compared to 19 percent of men. The holiday stress survey, conducted by APA in October 2006, showed that comfort eating rises by 10 percent at the holidays as a source of stress relief for women (versus a 6 percent increase for men), indicating that holiday pressures are having an impact on women's behaviors.

"The effectiveness with which people manage stress -- especially women during the holidays, given their increased stress levels -- is critical to long-term mind and body health," says Newman. "It seems that women, in particular, view holiday stress and their ways of coping with it as a normal part of the season."

Results from the January 2006 survey show that women report stress affects them more than men do (51 percent versus 43 percent) and that women are more likely than men to report multiple stressors. The same is true during the holidays. Women (44 percent) are more likely than men (31 percent) to report an increase of stress during the holiday season, citing lack of time (69 percent versus 63 percent), lack of money (69 percent versus 55 percent), and pressure to give or get gifts (51 percent versus 42 percent) as primary stressors. While stress is an important health issue for everyone to take note of, survey findings indicate that identifying healthy strategies for managing stress is critical to the mind/body health of women.

The January 2006 survey shows that stress does have an effect on overall mind/body health. Adults who experience a great deal of stress rate their psychological and physical health lower than adults who are not experiencing stress. Women under stress are more likely than men to report that they are in fair or poor health. People very concerned with the level of stress in their lives are more likely to report a number of specific ailments and symptoms.

  • 59 percent report feeling nervous or sad 

  • 51 percent report symptoms of fatigue 

  • 56 percent report inability to sleep or sleeping too much 

  • 55 percent report lack of interest, motivation or energy 

  • 46 percent report headaches 

  • 48 percent report muscular tension 

  • 32 percent report frequent upset stomach or indigestion 

  • 37 percent report change in appetite 

  • 29 percent report feeling faint or dizzy 

  • 26 percent report tightness in chest 

  • 23 percent report change in sex drive

"My advice to both men and women is to pay attention to what causes their stress and to find healthy ways of managing it. Everyone responds to their stress in some way. The key is handling stress in a manner that doesn't make things worse," says Newman.

The holiday stress survey was conducted October 2-5, 2006, by Greenberg, Quinlan Rosner Research for the APA, with the objectives of exploring stress during the holidays, the causes of stress and how holiday stress differs from other times of the year, as well as what people do differently during the holiday season to manage their stress. The telephone poll reached 786 adults, 369 men and 417 women who were 18 years or older and was weighted by gender, age, race and education.

To view the Multimedia News Release, go to:

For tips on managing holiday stress or to learn more about stress and mind/body health, visit the American Psychological Association Help Center.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.