Overwhelmed at the thought of buying gifts for everyone on your list? Panicked about meeting a year-end deadline at work? No idea how you're going to bake cookies for church, teachers, family, the mailman, dogwalker, and babysitter? Well, maybe one of them can do without cookies. But, know you aren't the only one feeling stressed during the holiday season.
Employees at Salt Lake City based TermLife2Go.com were curious if other people were feeling as stressed this time of year as they were, so they let their data analysts get to work. They turned to the same place most people do when they want an answer, Google! "We felt like it actually could be a good indicator of who's feeling the most stress, because when you think about it, where do we go first when we have a health question? We'd love to say it's our doctor, but most of the time it ends up being Google", says Nina Simmons, Community Manager at TermLife2Go.
Turns out, Google searches spiked in December of 2017 for stress-related terms. Analysts searched for terms like "stress relief", "psychological stress", "anxiety disorder", and "stress reduction". They found those terms among Americans started trending upward near the end of November, and peaked mid-December.
Once analysts discovered the trend, they decided to take it a step further, and work to figure out which states had the biggest volume of searches. "We ran those terms back through Google one at a time, each time looking at the specific time range of end of November to before Christmas. And, we looked for which states had the highest search volume for all of those terms combined during that time period, so during that holiday season", says Simmons.
Using that data, analysts determined the states with the most holiday stress are North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. That collection wasn't what the researchers were expecting: "You weren't really seeing so many of the larger states, even though this wasn't done per capita", says Simmons. "That was actually pretty surprising to us, that some of the states with really large major cities weren't included in our top five."
If you are one of the millions feeling the stress of the holiday season, there are some things you can do to cope. Physically, the American Heart Association recommends keeping up regular healthy habits like eating well, exercising, and taking time to relax.
The Mayo Clinic also has a big list of suggestions, including planning ahead and learning to say no. Experts there suggest making sure you have time for yourself. They say just 15 minutes alone without distractions may refresh you enough to handle that lengthy to-do list. The most effective is described as an activity that clears your mind, slows your breathing, and restores inner calm. Some recommendations from the Mayo Clinic include taking a walk at night and stargazing, listening to soothing music, getting a massage, or reading a book.
Employees at TermLife2Go says the biggest takeaway they got from their data project was the reminder to take care of themselves during the holidays. "We're pretty much saying if you're feeling stressed over the holiday season, you're not alone", says Simmons. "As much as we'd like to think it's the happiest time of the year, know many people out there are feeling a little stressed."
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of big breaking news events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, lockdown in Watertown, MA following the Boston marathon bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have garnered awards, including a focus on treating mental health issues in children. Currently, she is a reporter at a television station covering the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact-finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.