As enjoyable as the holidays are, I know they can be stressful and hectic for many people. Shopping and wrapping holiday gifts, cooking and entertaining for loved ones and friends, and all of the extra family expectations can make this one of the toughest times of the year.
But what concerns me most is the impact stress can have on your heart. There’s a direct connection between your autonomic nervous system and your heart.
Studies have found that patients who overreacted to mental stress had nearly three times the relative risk of having a cardiac event compared to those who didn’t. In fact, mental stress is a more accurate predictor of cardiac events than regular stress testing.
So, I wanted to take this time to share some stress-reducing secrets I’ve discovered in my medical career:
- Breathe: Proper breathing is a powerful way to reduce stress and tension. When you feel stressed, you want to both inhale and exhale—slowly, deeply, and fully. Relax. After several breaths, you should be aware of how much more you need to breathe and how much relief it offers you.
- Reframe the Situation: We can all reframe situations we have automatically labeled as stressors, choosing to interpret them differently so we can react to them in a more positive manner. I call this “looking for opportunity in a crisis.” Instead of viewing yourself as a victim of the circumstance, realize your mind is a very powerful tool—one that can talk you out of stress.
- Curtail Your Alcohol Consumption: Every cardiologist on the planet can tell you about “holiday heart syndrome.” This is our term for the increased incidence of heart attacks, arrhythmias (disordered beating of the heart), and high blood pressure that goes hand in hand with increased alcohol intake over the holidays. Alcohol also exerts a depressant effect that can cause a slowing of brain activity, which lowers your serotonin levels. Plus, as alcohol’s effects wear off, you may feel anxious, which brings about an increase in stress hormones.
- Take Life One Chunk at a Time: Whether it’s gift buying and wrapping, shopping for and preparing holiday meals, decorating our home, making travel plans—or juggling everything combined—this time of the year can feel like an endless to-do list. Instead of tackling everything at once, take it one chunk at a time.
- Make Time to Exercise: In the frenzy of the holiday season, it’s easy to forgo your exercise routine. But exercise is actually a highly effective way to decrease anxiety and improve your resistance to stress. That’s because it releases tension from your muscles, and stimulates feel-good endorphins. Taking just a 20-minute brisk walk, whether outside or on a treadmill, can release stress and improve your mood tremendously!
Now it’s your turn: How do you reduce holiday stress?
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