Tips for a Stress Free Holiday Season! | Kimberly from Millennial Moms
Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday for a Healthy Heart
The holiday season is synonymous with stress, but that doesn’t mean it should be the norm. Find out how to remain stress-free.
By Michelle Seitzer
Medically Reviewed by Michael Cutler, DO, PhD
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Homes to decorate, gifts to buy, food to prepare — staying stress-free during the holidays may seem like an impossible goal, but it’s essential for heart health. Research shows that the heightened emotional state many of us find ourselves in during the holidays can influence heart health: According to an article published in February 2019in the journalThe Lancet, emotional stress is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
, family medicine specialist and hypertension physician champion for the Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center in Harbor City, California, says that family, finances, and fear of saying no are among the major causes of holiday stress. During the holiday season, Dr. Dueñas says we might feel obligated to see and spend time with everyone in our family; stressed by conflicts or personality clashes at holiday gatherings; sad because we don’t have family close by; or grief-stricken about loved ones who’ve passed away.
In addition, the pressure of wanting to buy gifts beyond our budget, setting unrealistic expectations, overcommitting, and anxiety or disappointment about the year’s unaccomplished goals can wreak havoc on your heart health. This is especially the case if you’re not sleeping enough, not eating right, or increasing your alcohol consumption, adds Dueñas.
“Any stress on the body or mind can affect those with existing heart problems, or bring it out in those who don’t know they have it yet,” says Michael Bauer, MD, a cardiologist with Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
Pay Attention to Holiday Risk Factors for Stress
The volume is turned way up during the holidays — think crowded, busy shopping centers, honking horns in holiday traffic, a house full of guests, and family obligations. With so much extra noise and little time for rest, you forget to take care of yourself.
You might not take your medication appropriately and you may not listen to the cues your body is giving you, says Sonia Tolani, MD, a cardiologist at Columbia Doctors and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
The added stress is enough to make anyone’s heart race, but those with known and unknown heart disease are taking especially big risks.
“For people with untreated heart disease, ignoring the warning signs, such as being short of breath, chest pain, or having dizziness, can lead to having a heart attack,” Dr. Tolani says, adding that there are other known risk factors for a holiday heart attack. “If you're not normally physically active, be careful with vigorous activity, like shoveling snow and moving heavy objects, especially if you’ve been having chest pains or shortness of breath leading up to the holidays,” adds Tolani. “If you don't feel well, see your doctor. The gifts, your guests, and the party can wait.”
The Effects of Holiday Stress on Your Heart
Risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD) include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Lack of physical activity
- Being overweight or obese
But recent research, in particular a study published in October 2019 in the journal EthnoMed, suggests heart attacks can occur in persons who are free of these risk factors, and that managing stress holds the key to reducing one’s risk of heart disease.
Dueñas says that our body can naturally manage small amounts of stress. But excessive or chronic amounts have a serious impact on our heart.
“Our cardiovascular system responds strongly and quickly when we’re stressed out. Our heart rate increases, then our heart muscles begin to contract,” she explains. This raises blood pressure, which prompts the body to produce stress hormones, like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, to fight those feelings off. “If we’re already under stress and we add to that the burden of holiday stress, our heart will definitely pay a toll,” Dueñas says.
She recommends exercise, self-care, a good night’s sleep, and limiting food and alcohol intake to keep the effects of holiday stress at bay.
5 Quick Tips to Manage Holiday Stress
Avoiding holiday stress entirely is your best bet for prime heart health, but it’s probably not a realistic goal. Consider these quick tips to make this holiday, and all those to come, more heart-healthy:
1. Limit long lines and stressful shopping times.Keep your — and your kids’ or grandkids’ — gifting expectations realistic, says Amnon Beniaminovitz, MD, a cardiologist with Manhattan Cardiology in New York City. With that in mind, also try not to shop during those peak hours when lines are excessively long and shoppers are on edge or argumentative.
2. Know your limits.Realize that you just can’t be everywhere and that it’s okay to say “no,” recommends Dueñas.
3. Limit alcohol consumption.Although it’s okay to imbibe in a glass or two, Ravi Kishore Amancharla, MD, chief interventional cardiologist and electrophysiologist with Health City Cayman Islands in Grand Cayman, advises to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Dr. Amancharla warns that excessive drinking during the holidays could precipitate arrhythmias.
4. Practice stress management strategies.Dueñas suggests meditation, writing in a journal, doing breathing exercises, or practicing yoga to take time out for yourself.
5. Do things you enjoy and that make you feel good.Volunteering is a great way to spend time during the holiday season, says Dueñas. Find a local food pantry that needs help serving meals on site, or distributing them in the neighborhood. Visit older adults in nursing homes who don’t have family or friends in the area. Donate gifts to community organizations that distribute them for children in difficult circumstances.
6. Shift your focus.“Try to put the holidays in perspective and remember they are really about spending time with your loved ones,” says Tolani.
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