A member of our extended family died suddenly over the Christmas holidays, and until it happens in your own family, you may not notice how common it is. Apparently, you have a greater chance of dying over the Christmas holidays than at any other time of the year. This fact was made more obvious this past Christmas by the unusual number of celebrity deaths that joined the ranks.
The reasons this may happen are murky and are not necessarily related to increased stress, as you might think. David P. Phillips from the sociology department at UC San Diego became intrigued with this statistic and began to investigate it. He began by looking at Alzheimer’s patients, theorizing that since they are often not even aware of what day it is, they would be immune to the stress of the season. But he found that Alzheimer’s patients were also at increased risk of death at this time of year.
Phillips began to search for other possible causes, including colder temperatures, diet, or increased alcohol consumption. But the uptick in deaths is actually greater in warmer areas in the south of the US rather than in the north, and occurs even in patients who are already hospitalized, whose diets are closely monitored. Suicide risk is also down during the holidays, even though it’s long been popularly believed to rise during the “merry” month.
Phillips believes that the true reason that death is more likely to occur over the holidays is because of lack of access to medical care. The number of doctors and nurses working over the holidays is lower, so there are fewer people available to help when an emergency occurs. People may also put off going to see a doctor at Christmas because their schedules are already busy, or because they prefer to stay and celebrate with their families rather than make a trip to the hospital. Apparently, your risk of death also increases on weekends when hospital staff is reduced, which further corroborates his theory.
I think it helps to be aware of this fact, and adjust your behavior accordingly when Christmas approaches in another year. It still makes sense to watch your diet and avoid over-eating heavy, fat-laden foods during the Christmas season which are more likely to cause digestive problems and potential heart attacks. It would be wrong to prohibit alcohol consumption entirely, but try to keep the amounts small. Also, be sure to listen closely to elderly family members and if they have any small health complaints, you should take them seriously.
As is often the case, we should also concentrate on listening more to others rather than speaking, and taking their concerns seriously rather than being dismissive or critical. That in itself may go a long way towards reducing the stress associated with the season as well.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.