It’s funeral homes’ ‘busy season,’ here’s what to be careful for

National and World

Relaxed woman sitting at the window sill and drinking tea

INDIANAPOLIS — The holidays create a busy season for many industries, especially as more and more people look for Christmas presents and plenty of food for Thanksgiving, many businesses are packed.

Funeral homes are no exception.

Ramie Falk of Indiana Funeral care had mentioned that the busy season for them started in the past month or so, and it will continue until the end of the year, as it does every year, for nearly every funeral home in Indiana.

“I can’t speak for outside state lines, but I do know within the state this is busy season,” Falk said. “There are a lot of different factors.”

She cited a few reasons, and it’s not at all what many typically think.

The Myth of Holiday Suicides

Many have heard of the idea that suicide rates increase during the holiday season. However, it’s actually the complete opposite.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health conducted a study that looked into factors that lead to a peak in suicide in the spring.

Suicide is global and year-round. Many people are more likely to think that suicide increases during the winter as it is “especially poignant” when someone dies by suicide during the holidays. The pattern has not changed in recent years.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can hit during any season as long as it repeats in the same season every year, so many make the assumption that it would lead to higher suicide rates in the winter. It can contribute to thoughts or behavior related to suicide, but data shows that it’s more common in springtime.

It’s also easy to assume that suicide rates increase during Christmastime, as many assume that holidays make people feel more isolated, or that they may experience stress associated with the season. Instead, the holidays actually provide emotional and social support that individuals at risk need.

So, what is it? How can funeral homes experience a busy season when holiday suicide turned out to be a myth? There are several other factors, as Falk had said, but the most common include cold weather, flu season and drug overdoses.

An Icy Heart

Cold weather is hazardous not just due to the risk of hypothermia or frostbite or black ice on the roads, but due to the fact that it increases the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases. It turns things that normally wouldn’t cause an issue, such as shoveling snow, into something potentially fatal.

The cold causes blood vessels to contract, raising blood pressure and therefore increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Especially for children and the elderly, the heart has to work extra hard to maintain a healthy body temperature, which is difficult with how quickly wind and snow will cause the body to lose heat. You also are more at risk if you’ve already had heart and blood issues, don’t exercise regularly or smoke.

Of course, emotional stress takes a toll on the heart; and the holiday season knows no shortage of stress.

To take care of your heart during the winter, the following is recommended:

  • Limit exposure to cold weather and stay warm. Of course, staying away from the problem altogether is a sure way to prevent it from happening. However, when you do go outside, bundle up. Wear thick clothes, a heavy coat, gloves, hats and ear protection, layers and cover your mouth and nose with your scarf or mask. Breathing in cold air can lead to arteries to narrow, which increases the risk of blood clotting.
  • Don’t overexert or overheat yourself. If you start to feel warm in your layers, don’t take everything off at once. Start a layer at a time to let some excess heat out until you feel regulated enough to put the layer back on. When it comes to physical activitiy, keep it light and manageable, even if that means shovelling smaller amounts of snow at a time and not for long periods at a time. Listen to your body and know your limits, and don’t surpass them.
  • Avoid nicotine and alcohol. Alcohol tends to make the body warm up more than it should, which can be dangerous if out in the cold. It can also make the body feel warmer than what it really is, so half the time people wouldn’t even know if they start freezing. Smoking should be avoided entirely, as it narrows blood vessels.
  • Manage your stress. Take breaks, do things that make you happy, keep a healthy social life — there are many methods of self-care and self-soothing. Make sure your mental needs are met.
  • Know the signs of a heart attack. Symptoms include pain and numbness the left arm, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea and cold sweats. Knowing what you’re feeling and how to treat it will better prepare you for the worst. Even if you’ve taken all the precautions and begin to feel a heart attack, stop what you’re doing immediately and seem emergency medical help. The sooner you catch it, the greater likelihood of survival.

Influenza and the Pandemic

For most people, the flu is a mild illness, but for those who are older or immunocompromised, it’s suddenly a lot deadlier.

What’s dangerous about the flu is how it’s contagious, so even if you might not catch it naturally, someone can pass it along to you. It’s often confused with the common cold, but it tends to feel more severe and commonly involves aches and fevers. It also can be confused with COVID-19, but neither of those illnesses tends to result in a loss of taste and smell like COVID-19 does.

To prevent yourself and others in your family from catching the flu, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Get the flu shot. The CDC recommends that anyone six months and older should get a flu shot every year, especially if you are over the age of 65. If you have an egg allergy, be sure to mention that, and you’ll be able to get the appropriate influenza vaccine. Of course, if you’ve had an allergic reaction to the flu shot in the past, don’t get one.
  • Wash your hands and keep them out of dirty areas. It goes without saying that washing your hands will protect you from germs and illness. If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub, such as a hand sanitizer. It’s also important to keep your hands away from germs, washing after contact and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Keep surfaces and objects clean and disinfected, as this will prevent less contact with germs.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes. Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw it in the trash — if you accidentally sneeze into your hand, wash your hands to clean the germs off. Of course, it’s also just rude to cough or sneeze on someone else.

The Overdose Crisis

Overdose deaths in the United States are reaching record numbers during the pandemic, and it has not yet hit its peak.

Overdose rates increase over the holidays, typically due to the stress that the season brings, as well as the stress surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alongside overdosing, people put themselves and others at risk of death if they were to get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs. As drugs impair a person’s judgment, slow reaction time and several other restrictions that could lead to colossal damage and even death.

Hoosiers can call 211 to be connected to support services or find a regional recovery hub in their area.

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