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‘Tis the Season to be…Stressed. Lourdes Cardiologist Gives Tips to Avoid Holiday Burnout

Christmas Day, December 26, and New Year’s Day are all linked with increased numbers of heart attacks, according to research published in the journal Circulation. While a poor diet, excess drinking and lack of exercise contribute to holiday heart attacks–especially in people who already are in poor health–studies have found that emotional stress can play a significant role.

“Best intentions to spend quality time with loved ones can easily be overtaken by the stress of having to be everywhere and do it all,” said Lourdes cardiologist  Ram Wadehra, DO. “The holiday season promises special moments for friends and family, but also may bring added pressures, such as  buying gifts, decorating and traveling.  With family on both the East and West Coasts, I know how challenging that can be.”

According to the American Psychological Association, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men feel increased stress during the holidays.

Stress stimulates release of hormones by the adrenal glands (located near the kidneys), including adrenaline and cortisol, said Dr. Wadehra.   “These hormones increase your heart rate, elevate your blood pressure, and raise your blood sugar.

“Chronic stress increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. It also contributes to unhealthy behaviors already abundant during the holidays, such as overeating, drinking too much alcohol and for some, smoking.”

Dr. Wadehra suggests paying attention to your body and its warning signs that you may be stressed. This includes tension in the neck, shoulders and back, as well as headaches, upset stomach or even chest pain.

Dr. Wadehra also suggests these tips to cope:

  • Discuss plans in advance. If you can’t be with one branch of the family for the holidays, break the news early to prevent hurt feelings.
  • Don’t accept every invitation to perform every holiday activity. Let some things slide.
  • Have a strategy for family gatherings. Relationships within a family can be complex. Think ahead and anticipate conversations and issues ahead of time.
  • Remember your budget. Small, thoughtful gifts can be the best—and prevent post-holiday financial hardship.
  • If long lines make you tense, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. Then walk away and shop online.
  • Take time for yourself to exercise or relax.
  • Sleep.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of a couple big ones. Avoid excess refined carbs where you can. Better to eat unsaturated fats and natural sugars present in fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and lean proteins. Foods prepped with olive oil, raw unsalted nuts, and guacamole (avocado) are all good ideas. Low-fat means high carb. Processed foods are loaded with salt, carbs and other ingredients, and labels can be tricky. Enjoy special treats, but pace yourself.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Find a way to help others. Reach out to a relative or neighbor who needs assistance. Even if only for a few hours, helping someone in need can take the focus off your own holiday tasks and remind you how good it feels to aid others.

“Stress is part of life, both good and bad. How we cope directly impacts our health,” added Dr. Wadehra. “Your doctor can help be your guide in working through chronic stress. Please reach out if you are feeling overwhelmed.”


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