Holiday Stress and the Heart
Whew! Thanksgiving is over, and though it was a great time for family, fun, and food, it’s now time for Christmas and the New Year. The holidays are known to bring forth a lot of great things, but one that is very unwelcome is stress. From holiday traffic to gift shopping to having the whole family packed in one house, and then cooking all day and still trying to manage one’s sleep schedule and exercise – it becomes too much. This type of stress can not only impede the joy we experience during this time, but it can also hurt our bodies.
The Body is a Temple – Sometimes of Stress
The most common ways stress and anxiety can affect your body and mood are by causing headaches, chest pain, muscle tension and pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, an upset stomach, sleep problems, restlessness, irritability, and much more. It can cause you to overeat, undereat, have angry outbursts, use drugs or alcohol, socially withdraw, lose motivation, and not exercise as often. These all lead to a less healthy, stressed-out heart, in particular.
Broken Heart Syndrome
Stress most definitely creates physiologic effects within the body – the heart included. When in a particularly stressful and/or traumatic situation, it’s common for someone to call it an anxiety attack, but it could be more. It could be that an artery that was previously open is now closed, which means there was some level of “heart damage” taking place, also known as “broken heart syndrome.”
This syndrome is an example of cardiovascular damage that can result from severe stress. In the cases of everyday, more common stresses, the data is a bit more blurry in its solid link to heart disease. Experts say, however, that any kind of stress is not good for the heart, as it causes strain and tension throughout the body. It is believed by some that stress causes inflammation, though this has yet been proven, and it increases one’s blood pressure, which opens up a door for further heart problems. Moreso, such stress causes individuals to adopt unhealthy habits, which can lead to heart disease. Habits like poor eating and exercise, smoking and drinking, can increase one’s likelihood for CVD.
Healing Your Broken Heart
The best way to keep stress from affecting the health of one’s heart is by managing stress through coping mechanisms and a healthy mindset.
- Acknowledge how you feel. Nothing is worse than pushing down one’s feelings, whether it’s from losing a loved one, having too much on the To-Do List, or being around stressful relatives. Always acknowledge these feelings to yourself, or someone who would understand compassionately. Sometimes, all it takes to find relief is to be heard, understood, and not to feel alone.
- Ask for help – with tasks and your mental health. This goes hand-in-hand with the above advice: it’s okay to ask for help with holiday tasks and planning. It’s also okay to ask for help from a professional or friend, who is willing to listen. You aren’t (or shouldn’t be) expected to deal with all of this on your own. Share the burdens of the holidays, so you can take part in the joy of the holidays too.
- Set realistic expectations. From the start, set realistic expectations for yourself and for others to abide by. If you set the right standards from the start, you are less likely to feel the pressure from everything around you later on.
- Unplug. You’re already getting it from every angle; you don’t need it from your phone too. Notifications and alerts are notorious for adding to our stress levels. The good part? We have some control over this. When you get a quiet moment, turn your phone off or set notifications to snooze or vibrate. Unplug from the world to rejuvenate your mind and heart.
- Yoga or relaxing meditation of some kind. Do something intentional that you enjoy. Whether you listen to music in the mornings, do a lazy afternoon yoga session alone, or simply stretch before bed, do something that will settle down your heart and ease your mind, intentionally.
- Learn to say no. Even when you set those realistic expectations, life can still get out of hand. When this happens, be ready to say no. It’s okay. Who said you were the one designated to make everyone’s dreams come true this holiday season? Say no, or find a way to distribute duties, if that thing is so important.
- Sweat out the stress. After confirming with your doctor that this is the best way to go, sweat out all your stress with some good physical exercises that get your heart rate up. Not only does this release unwanted stress and tension, but it’s great for the heart.
- Breathe. Above all else, when stress reaches its peak, practice breathing exercises that could make all the difference. It’s funny because we as stressed-out humans can forget to breathe sometimes. Take a minute. Breathe in slowly. Breathe out slowly. There are even tools you can use that help greatly with this, such as the Hoberman’s Sphere.