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5 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress & Heart Attacks
Mental Health

5 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress & Heart Attacks

By Yenal Harper, MD, FACC, FSCAI
Posted: December 15, 2022

The holiday season is upon us, a time to connect and celebrate with friends, family and colleagues. It can be a joy to spend time with others, sharing stories of the past year, enjoying eggnog and celebrating with delicious meals. But for many, the holidays bring more than merry moments. They bring increased stress which can lead to health problems – especially heart attacks.  

According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people say their stress level increases during the holidays. Research in the field has also shown that the chance of having a heart attack during the Christmas holidays increased by 15%. This especially held true in older people and those who have generally poor health. So, there’s no better time to improve your heart health and reduce stress. 

As the year comes to an end, take steps to reduce your holiday stress. It may very well help lower your risk of a heart attack.  

5 tips to reduce your holiday stress and improve your heart health 

During the holidays, you likely can’t avoid all stress. But when combined with other factors, like high cholesterol and blood pressure and poor overall health, stress can increase heart-related problems. Consider these tips to improve your heart health, so you can better handle the stress of the season. 

1. Eat well 

The food you eat fuels your body and impacts your energy. Get the right nutrition, so you’re ready to deal with holiday stress: 

  • Start each day with a healthy breakfast like whole grain avocado toast, a scrambled egg and brown rice bowl with spinach and tomato, whole grain oatmeal with hazelnuts and chia seeds or applesauce French toast 
  • Add plenty of fruits and vegetables to your plate. For example, instead of green beans with creamed soup, try baked acorn squash with apples or spinach salad with strawberries and walnuts. 
  • Hold off on going back for seconds. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to signal the stomach that you are full.

2. Limit alcohol

Don’t let drinking become a coping strategy you turn to when stressed. Remember, alcohol doesn’t have to be a part of holiday celebrations. But if alcohol is on the menu, it’s best to find balance and use moderation. If you feel pressure to raise a festive holiday drink, try these instead: 

    • Berries in iced water 
    • Club soda and cranberry juice
    • Spiced apple cider 

    3. Get plenty of sleep 

    A good night’s rest affects your mental and physical health. It boosts your brain performance and lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke and obesity. To help you get a good night’s sleep and recover from holiday stress, try these tips: 

        • Turn off the screens at least 30 minutes before bed 
        • Keep the bedroom lighting low 
        • Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime
        • Get exercise at least five days a week 

        4. Plan ahead 

        You’re busy, and finding time to prepare for the holidays takes time. Don’t wait until the last minute to complete tasks. Instead, try these tips to plan and avoid holiday stress: 

            • Start a countdown list and prioritize all things you’d like to accomplish 
            • Plan hair appointments, set out your outfit the night before, get your baking done early, plan the family calendar, call friends and family early and schedule downtime 
            • Make travel arrangements early
            • Prep gifts as you purchase them to avoid last-minute wrapping

            5. Make a budget

            Create a gift budget that works for your family and doesn’t cause financial stress. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on gifts. Instead, homemade gifts like healthy baked bread with your recipe attached, mason jars of dried soup ready to go, IOUs for snow shoveling or babysitting, and clippings from a favorite house plant are great ways to show someone you care. Try these tips to reduce your spending: 

                • Take care of your necessities first, like rent, utilities and groceries 
                • Set dollar limits on gift exchanges   
                • Shop early sales
                • Don’t use a credit card, instead pay in cash 


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                  Signs of Heart Attack 

                  During the holiday season, watch stress levels and how you are feeling. Don’t ignore symptoms that could indicate a cardiac health problem. And remember, heart attack signs can be different for women and men. Women’s signs and symptoms can show up differently and may not follow the classic symptoms of atherosclerotic heart disease.  

                  The classic symptoms that may be seen in both women and men include: 

                  • Chest pain or pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen. This is classically described as a sensation of “ an elephant sitting on my chest.” 
                  • Difficulty breathing 
                  • Extreme fatigue 
                  • Pain radiating up into the neck, jaw and down into the arms
                  • The above symptoms are usually associated with sweating, nausea, vomiting and a sense of impending doom. Fainting may also occur if abnormal heart rhythms develop with the heart attack.  

                    With a few simple lifestyle changes, you can help make this holiday season a heart-healthy one. 


                    Our heart health specialists are here to help you.

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