We’re getting into the heart of the holiday season, a time packed full of gift-giving, shopping extravaganzas, parties, and activities galore. While this season is meant to bring feelings of love and cheer, it can also be one of the most stressful times, putting added strain on your heart.
Beat the holiday stress this year and learn to love the holidays while keeping your heart health in check with the following simple tips:
Eat healthfully – Plan ahead when you’re attending big gatherings. Look over all the food offerings and pick and choose carefully – moderation is key. Remember, you don’t have to sample everything. Make sure you are choosing nutritious options such as fruits and vegetables for more energy.
Limit alcohol consumption – Just like with food, moderation is key. Enjoy the holiday, but remember to treat your body well, so you have the energy, stamina, and health to make it through the New Year celebration. Alcohol can interrupt sleep patterns, cause stomach issues, and increase depression.
Exercise – Just because you’re busy, keep up with your normal exercise routine. Regular exercise is a great stress-reducing tool and outlet for the body. Additionally, it helps you sleep better at night, keeps the blood flowing and heart pumping, and encourages the body to release endorphins – the feel-good chemical in our bodies.
Substitute healthy indulgences – If you’re feeling stressed, don’t reach for the cheesecake or the eggnog. Instead, look for a healthy way to relax such as taking a hot bath, lighting a scented candle, turning on your favorite Christmas movie, or calling an old friend.
Get your sleep – If you’re struggling with fatigue and sleeplessness, it is a signal that you need to step back and take some time for yourself. Sleep is your body’s way to recharge, and people who don't sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease – regardless of age, weight, smoking, and exercise habits.
Don’t overcommit – Stay focused on what is important during the holidays. You don’t have to say yes to every invitation or holiday get-together. Consider what is best for you, it will help you deal with the stress of this busy time of year.
Manage your expectations – You don’t have to be perfect to enjoy the holidays. Sometimes good enough is just perfect. Set realistic expectations and don’t worry when things may not go according to plan.
Listen to your body – If you start to get tired or worn down, it’s time to look at rebalancing your life commitments. Recognizing the signals your body is sending you will allow you to take the steps to slow down and evaluate your health and wellness, helping avoid a potential health issue. If you have symptoms such as chest pains, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue, listen to what your body is telling you and call 911 as these could be warning signs of a heart attack.
Plan for the New Year – The New Year is a perfect time to set your health and wellness goals. Look ahead and set realistic diet and exercise goals for the coming months. It takes time and effort to develop new habits so don’t get discouraged. Even little improvements can have big results in the long run.
Talk about it – Stress is not something you have to handle alone. Let your family and friends know if you’re feeling overly stressed. Sometimes just talking about your stress will help you feel better, and those you’re sharing with may be able to help you reduce your stress.
Stress can really take its toll on the heart, so it’s important to learn to manage your stress levels not just over the holidays, but year-round. If you’re looking for help, talk to your provider who can help you develop an effective stress-reduction plan tailored to your lifestyle and needs.
Michael Desiderio, DO, is a cardiologist with UPMC Susquehanna. He earned his medical degree at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and completed his residency at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio. He completed a fellowship in cardiology at Morristown Medical Center, N.J.