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December 2007

Keep the Holidays Happy by Managing Stress

Why pregnant women should be especially careful

It's that time of year again. Parties, presents, family and friends. While struggling to juggle it all, many women experience short-term stress this time of year.

Balancing the demands of work, shopping, spending time with family, parties and house guests may contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed. Pregnant women in particular often try to accomplish the same tasks they did before pregnancy. According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, early signs of stress include:

  • headache
  • sleep disorders
  • difficulty concentrating
  • short temper
  • upset stomach
  • job dissatisfaction
  • low morale
  • anxiety
  • depression

Stress Can Harm a Pregnancy

Nearly half of all women in the United States experience heightened stress during the holidays, according to a national survey by the American Psychological Association. For pregnant women, stress can be more dangerous.  High levels of stress can increase the risk of premature delivery.  Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are considered premature.  Babies born prematurely are at risk of health problems including lasting disabilities like mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and death.

The Numbers

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), women under stress are more likely than men to report that they are in fair or poor health.  According to a January 2006 national stress survey by the APA, people very concerned with the level of stress in their lives are more likely to report a number of specific ailments and symptoms.  For example:

  • 59 percent report feeling nervous or sad
  • 56 percent report inability to sleep, or sleeping too much
  • 55 percent report lack of interest, motivation or energy
  • 51 percent report symptoms of fatigue
  • 48 percent report muscular tension
  • 46 percent report headaches

Women are more likely than men to report an increase in stress during the holiday season, citing lack of time, lack of money, and pressure to give or get gifts as primary stressors.  Stress due to holiday events increases the likelihood that women will turn to unhealthy behaviors like using food or drinking alcohol to help them cope. 

Ways to Manage Stress

It's important for women to learn how to cope with stress.  Here are some tips to pass on to women you see to help them simplify their lives around the holiday season:

Lifestyle Changes

  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Take advantage of this time to connect with friends and/or family
  3. Eat balanced meals that include fruits and vegetables and limit caffeine and sugar
  4. Meditate, pray, dance or do yoga
  5. Go for a walk, run or bike ride
  6. Ask for help before becoming overwhelmed

Attitude and Emotional Changes

  1. Set priorities, know your limits and say "no" to anything else
  2. Think positively and laugh at least once a day
  3. Know that you are important and make time for yourself every day
  4. Share your feelings with others
  5. Accept that you can’t control every situation or other people

Help from the Pros

When stress becomes overwhelming, women should turn to professionals.  As health professionals, you can help women assess their stress and learn ways to seek help or manage stress.

Women can take an"Assess your stress" test online to find out if their stress affects their health.  This test can also be printed and given to women to help them think about their stress level.  The North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation also offers free publications (Taking Care of Me, Choices, Mujer Total) for you to distribute to help women manage their stress.

Read more about the basics of stress from the American Institute of Stress.
Read more about the effects of stress on pregnancy with articles by the American Psychological Association.

Visit our online catalog to learn how to cope with stress:
Taking Care of Me—for new mothers
Choices—for all women
Mujer Total—(Total Woman)—in Spanish

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Last updated: December 2007


At a glance

Percent of new mothers in NC, age 25-34 years, who experienced stressful events 12 months before pregnancy:

Number of Stressful Events

2005 PRAMS Stress Data


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