Talking Turkey About Holiday Stress

Stressed? You're Not Alone.

The holiday season is here and for many that can mean a surge in stress. But what is stress exactly? Science Friday hit the streets of New York City to gauge stress levels and consulted with experts on the effects of stress and strategies for how to cope.

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IRA FLATOW, host:

I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. Flora Lichtman is here with us. Hi, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: With our Video Pick of the Week. What have you got for us this week?

LICHTMAN: It's a seasonal special, I would say.

FLATOW: A seasonal special.

LICHTMAN: Yup. Thanksgiving is around the corner, the winter holidays are coming up after that and�

FLATOW: Turkey?

LICHTMAN: �turkey, cranberry sauce, chestnuts, but the holidays mean more than that to many people we found this week.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: Means stress.

FLATOW: Ayyy, stress.

LICHTMAN: Stress.

FLATOW: The relatives coming over. Arguments that started 50 years ago.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. Resumed. Replayed. Exactly.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: So we hit the streets of New York this week to see if it was just us who is feeling stressful - I'm a little bit stressed out - and found that New Yorkers are also feeling a little bit stressed. And the reasons were like getting gifts, getting�

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: �the right ones, seeing your family.

FLATOW: And, well, that was interesting because in the video, you interviewed all these people on the streets of New York. You can see the video at sciencefriday.com on the left side up there in the corner. I was surprised how many different ways you could be stressed out.

LICHTMAN: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: That I had not thought about!

LICHTMAN: It's varied thing. We found that people experienced stress in all these different ways, from, you know, headaches to backaches to - this is the weirdest answer: feet tingling.

FLATOW: Feet tingling.

LICHTMAN: That apparently is a stress indicator force for some people. And then we talked to experts, a stress expert, Dr. Paul Rosch, who said that actually there are 50 symptoms for stress.

FLATOW: Five-O?

LICHTMAN: It's very - five-O. It's very difficult to pin down what is stress. And there are a few studies that have looked at the physiological effects of stress�

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: �and there are some, you know, changes in the brain and neurotransmitters and changes in heart rate, but how those physical symptoms manifest in the body is very different for very - for different people we found firsthand.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And the streets of New York is a good place to search for these things.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. Some people were like: Of course I'm stressed, I live in New York.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Just talking to you�

LICHTMAN: Yeah. That was - it was the difficult part about this video, is that we had to find people who were stressed, and by nature those people were not interested in talking to us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: That's right.

LICHTMAN: Which was little bit challenging.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: That's right. It's the chicken and the egg.

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

FLATOW: I'm too stressed to talk to you and talking with you makes me even more stressed.

LICHTMAN: Right. We also - we talked to a couple experts about what you can do, some strategies for mitigating holiday stress. And one is - one, the sort of time-tested, proven one is social support networks. So you have - of community, it sounds like you do better with stress. And then the other person, one - Dr. Rosch said, you know, I think you're looking at stress the wrong way.

FLATOW: Really?

LICHTMAN: Stress isn't necessarily a bad thing, you know? Sometimes stress makes us more productive.

FLATOW: Right. And I think the great example of that, that you have on this video�

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: �you follow this one ice skater around Rockefeller Center, on the ice rink.

LICHTMAN: I feel a little bit bad, I have to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: There was an ice skater. This is like my worst nightmare of ice skating, and I would do no better. But it was a very stressful situation for this ice skater. I think maybe that's the best way to put it.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Yeah. Well, I'm glad you said that�

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: �because that was one of my favorite parts of your video, was watching the ice skater perform under stress.

LICHTMAN: Perform under stress. And this ice skater, she kept going for it, you know? It was clearly a difficult situation, she's not a natural born�

FLATOW: All right.

LICHTMAN: �figure skater�

FLATOW: So if you want to see all these people under stress, taking to us under stress, it's Flora's Video Pick of the Week.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. And it made me feel better.

FLATOW: It did.

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

FLATOW: You were deep-stressed.

LICHTMAN: I'm not alone is just how I felt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: You - when you see all these people talking about how stressed they are, you will not be alone either. That's our Video Pick of the Week, Flora Lichtman's Pick of the Week, on sciencefriday.com. And you can see it there along with all the other videos, dozens that we have for you to take a look at. Okay?

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: Have a happy holiday to everybody.

LICHTMAN: Thanks. You too.

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