Why Death Rates Increase During Holidays
Why Death Rates Increase During Holdiays
As children, the holiday season can be a time of joy and excitement. Represented with magic and wonder, days are counted down until these holidays arrive. For some, many individuals maintain this excitement and child-like zest. However, if you’ve ever spent a season alone, or conversely, scrambled from one place to the next or experienced familial conflict, it can feel quite the opposite. As the magic starts to dwindle, often with age, you may wonder what these implications lead to.
Unbenounced to most, the holiday season regularly shows increased death rates year after year. It’s probably due to the flu season… right? You’d be surprised to find out that's not the case.
Though these metrics have been observed for decades, many ‘health’ experts and laymen alike incorrectly assumed these increases were due to the flu and cold season, closely tied to the cold winter season. Initially this makes sense, but then enters the south of the equator. With the opposing seasonal patterns, but similar calendar holidays, when this half of the planet, specifically New Zealand, was observed by the American Heart Association, they found these same increases in death rates (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28007743/) as shown in North America. The sunny, beach-going Christmas they experience is not tied to flu season, so what gives?
The researchers found 5 primary reasons: 1) lack of availability for emergency care, 2) the postponement of care by individuals who need it, 3) elevated markers of stress, 4) increased alcohol intake, 5) and finally, general over-consumption.
Though the executors of the study find more evidence to support the first and second factors, and the following are more anecdotal, I want to focus on the final three as they are more importantly modifiable.
From worrying about an increase in expenses, to gifts, what to cook, whether the house is clean and prepared for guests, and/or any combination of familial interactions, and social engagements, this time of year can be overwhelming. Stress is a big deal. It's so significant that we wrote an entire article titled, “Top 5 Herbs To Manage Your Holiday Stress.” Outside of these helpful substances, it’s extremely important to manage stress, especially during this time of year. Increased stress elevates our sympathetic nervous system and our body’s chemical and hormonal responses – this can lead to increased rates of stroke, heart attacks, irritability, and poor decision making, all of which can add to these death rates.
Three ways to manage stress are 1) maintaining your self-care/health habits (workouts, nutrition, sleep, relaxation, etc.), 2) proactively communicate with others your boundaries, needs, and non-negotiables, and 3) ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ (i.e. ‘let go of what you cannot control’ and be okay things are not perfect. Maintaining your habits/lifestyle, being accountable to your needs, and reworking your mindsets can greatly reduce your stress.
Alcohol can sometimes be the “elephant in the room.” We all know it’s there and it can be a huge part of life, even more so during the holidays. Whether to cope with the aforementioned stress, to celebrate the festivities, or to find some ‘happiness,’ the presence of alcohol can’t be denied. Perhaps the elephant standing behind the alcohol is the negative effect it has on our health, both acutely and chronically. Overconsumption in one night of drinking can lead to cardiac arrest, stroke, poor decision making (i.e. car accidents), and other life threatening occurrences. Continual or habitual overconsumption of alcohol can also increase the likelihood of health issues through negatively impacting blood pressure, blood glucose, hormone levels, and atherosclerosis (e.g. arterial blockage), just to name a few. Even armed with that knowledge, a large majority of individuals will partake in some form of alcohol consumption during the season. If applicable, remember to drink responsibly by managing other factors (i.e. hydration, food options/portions, and environments), and limit both the quantity and frequency to which you participate. You may be surprised by the level of ‘being present’ and enjoyment you can have when abstaining from alcohol.
The final culprit which accumulates over the holiday season and impacts health similarly is overconsumption. Even those who generally control or are mindful of their nutrition, view the holiday months as a ‘free pass.’ Some degree of balance can be beneficial for both mental and emotional well-being (yes, a piece of pie with the family can be a good thing), but where the issue arises is when this overindulgence expands and manifests itself into a majority of situations. When we allow ourselves to ‘go down this avenue’ it can be extremely challenging to regain traction with our health when the holiday parties and social gatherings end. To hear more about this topic, check out episode #74 of the Iron Sights Podcast titled, “Eat Through the Holidays Without Gaining Fat.” If you plan ahead you can still be successful, such as bringing healthier/low-calorie options, controlling quality and quantity outside of social gatherings (i.e. eating lower calorie/high protein meals prior), and maintaining exercise/physical activity.
When you prioritize and implement these strategies to limit stress, alcohol, and overconsumption, you’re literally making conscious decisions that impact your quality of life and quite possibly your longevity. The idea that death rates increase during the holidays is a difficult truth, and you don’t have to become a statistic – do your part to make these changes around the holidays.