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A Holiday Gift: Less Stress

While many eagerly anticipate the winter holidays, others dread the season as it brings more stress than joy.

For many individuals and families, the holiday season presents numerous challenges, which can lead to heightened levels of stress. And stress, of any kind, can lead to serious medical concerns. Stress can cause pre-existing health problems to worsen, depression can increase, and cardiovascular risks may be escalated. Researchers believe chronic stress is linked to hypertension, heart attack, stroke and Type 2 diabetes, among other diseases.

Financial Stress

For low-income individuals and families, financial stress is exacerbated around the holiday. Numerous programs throughout the country exist to help these families and individuals in need. For generations, the Salvation Army’s Christmas Assistance Initiative has helped during the holiday season. Local branches raise money to provide a Christmas meal, warm coats, and new toys for children.

The Marine Toys for Tots Program believes a new toy serves a message of hope, and has been giving gifts to less fortunate children since 1995. In 2015, the program collected and distributed 18 million toys to 7 million less fortunate children, and helped purchase and distribute more than 3.02 million books to less fortunate children and to schools located in depressed areas.

Another example this holiday season, Shoes that Fit has partnered with Nordstrom and New Balance to provide brand new shoes to children across the U.S. Every $10 card purchased at the companies’ stores contributes toward a child’s new pair of shoes (up to 20,000 pairs). Since 2010, the partnership has managed to donate more than 93,000 new shoes.

Through the support of the programs mentioned, and many others across the country, families in need can enjoy holidays with additional support, food, clothing, toys, and a little less financial burden.

Caregiver Stress

The weeks leading up to the holidays can also be difficult for the sick, and the caregivers who provide them with care. Caregivers undergo significant amounts of stress, especially with the added pressure to deliver joy, as well as health and comfort during the holidays. Besides being tasked with the immense responsibility of tending to someone else’s medical and personal care, caretakers also take on the emotional stress of making sure the holiday season goes well for their relative. In one survey of caregivers, 37% reported “feeling stressed” or “in crisis” in December of 2015, representing a 10% increase to what was reported during other months of the year.

For children that are in the hospital, a traditional holiday celebration simply is not in the cards. Beyond not being able to be home for the holidays, hospitals can be scary, isolating and overwhelming for both the child and their family. To help ease the immense stress faced both by the child and caregivers, The Holiday Heroes Foundation aims to add small measures of fun with planned parties, holiday events and joyful, upbeat environments for hospitalized children to enjoy. The goal is that through this tough time in their lives, children will emerge physically and emotionally healthy, and caregivers can be a little more at ease knowing that extra measures are being taken to make a child’s holiday special.

Room in the Inn, is another program designed to take some of the load off of caregivers. The program offers free hotel rooms to friends and family who are visiting a loved one in a hospital, nursing home, or treatment center during the holidays. Run by the company TMI Hospitality, which owns more than 200 nationally recognized franchises across 26 states, the program is intended to make it financially feasible for families to come together during the holiday and make them feel comfortable by offering a home away from home.

While the holidays place a heavy burden on vulnerable populations, programs exist to help those in need. By connecting individuals with the appropriate resources, they can not only have a better holiday, but also a healthier life.

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Topics: Social Determinants of Health Mental Health