The song starts off ” It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” and the holidays can be amazing. They are times filled  that can be filled with goodwill, family togetherness, gifts, and great food…. but they  can also be times of stress and depression.


In fact,  google will show you that stress and depression during the holidays are so common,  that searching for the phrase “holiday stress and depression,” will result in over 23 million articles written to help you cope.


I think its safe to say holidays can be stressful too. (If you want to read a great article on how to cope, visit the Mayo clinic site here)

While the Mayo clinic article is geared more toward adults managing holiday stress, it is important to recognize that kids may have more stress during the holidays as well. Relatives that are difficult to get along with (every family has a turkey on Thanksgiving, right?) lack of control, over-fatigue etc can contribute to children’s stress levels. In fact some studies even believe that parents’ stress levels can contribute to  increased stress in their children (kind of a vicious cycle, right?)

In addition to the obvious mental health component of managing stress, research over the last decade has been exploring the relationship between stress, flares, and increased symptoms of Juvenile Arthritis. Although older studies (done in the 1980’s) did not show a firm correlation, newer research points to a causal relationship between disease activity and stress.

I’ll say it again. Wow.

The study published in 2005 by Laura E. Schanberg1,*,Karen M. Gil2,Kelly K. Anthony1, Eric Yow1, James Rochon  explores the possibility that disease activity can be influenced and worsened by stress, depression and poor mood. (It does NOT indicate that JA can be caused by stress, just to be clear.) A great summary of the scholarly research can be found here.

So what does this mean to me as a parent of JA kids?

It means that helping my children manage their disease, also means helping them manage their stress. It means that since the holidays bring on their own set of stressors, that this is not the time to “make” them work out all their own differences.I keep an ear out for disagreements and intervene a little sooner. I help them keep the peace a little more than I would other times in the year.

It means I give them the tools they need to keep them at their best to cope, from making sure they get adequate rest (despite the holiday schedule changes) to helping them keep their health on track by eating right and balancing “splurges” with good food that will keep them from feeling “blah” and sluggish.

It means that I have to make a conscious effort to manage my own stresses so I don’t get grouchy and snippy, adding to their load or creating that vicious cycle.

It means that even though I am pulled a hundred and one different directions, that I take time to listen if they need me to, and that I work harder to recognize their non-verbal cues…all things that are harder with the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Truthfully, all these things could be applied to a “normal” family without JA. Juvenile arthritis just tends to magnify things in our case, and knowing that these normal holiday stresses could magnify the effects of the disease just makes it even more important for us to recognize and handle them.

If you would like to learn more about stress and juvenile arthritis, you may find the following websites helpful: (Schanberg et al article 2005);2-S/full (Schanberg et al 2000) (slightly off topic, but this one relates to massage and JA- and how massage reduced the stress hormone cortisol, thus reducing pain and disease symptoms) (stress induces increase of IL-6 production by leucocytes);jsessionid=5jYkGsBDlfpc9RMKXCZY.4

How do you handle holiday stress?  If you have a JA child, do you notice a difference with increased stress and disease activity?



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