Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress
The holiday season is here. For many people, this time of year provides an opportunity to connect and celebrate with family and friends. While these holiday celebrations can be joyous occasions, they are also often a source of stress for many individuals. Whether your holiday stress is caused by the demands of hosting large gatherings, interacting with estranged family members, juggling a hectic schedule of holiday events, dealing with feelings of loneliness, or any other reason, this increased stress can have a significant impact on your heart health.
At South Denver Cardiology Associates, we’re committed to helping you maintain optimal heart health year-round. For many people, learning how to reduce stress is a critical step to managing your heart health during the holiday season. This is especially true if you have a heart condition.
Understanding the Impact of Stress on Heart Health
Stress can negatively impact your cardiovascular system in a variety of ways. While individuals in good heart health can generally handle the spike in stress that occurs during the holiday season, this increased holiday stress can have a devastating impact on people with heart conditions.
Stress sets off a variety of physiological responses within your body that can damage your heart health. When your body experiences stress, it results in an increase in blood pressure and an elevated heart rate that can contribute to the development or exacerbation of heart conditions. In addition, your body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which can negatively impact your heart. These hormones can contribute to an increase in blood pressure, prevent proper blood vessel function and cause inflammation in your internal systems. Over time, consistent exposure to high levels of stress can contribute to the accumulation of plaque in your arteries, increasing your risk of cardiovascular issues.
There have been numerous research studies linking chronic stress to an increased risk of developing heart disease. Therefore, it’s critical to take the proper steps to manage stress, especially during times like the holidays when stress levels tend to spike. By adopting strategies to reduce your holiday stress, you can not only improve your short-term wellbeing during this time of year, but also help minimize your risk of developing serious heart conditions down the road.
6 Tips to Manage Stress Over the Holidays
There are several steps you can take to reduce holiday stress. Some of the most effective strategies include:
- Prioritize and plan
- Adopt healthy eating habits
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sleep
- Engage in mindfulness and relaxation techniques
- Seek support when needed
Prioritize and Plan
Setting realistic expectations for the holiday season is the first step in managing stress. It’s important to recognize that you can only do so much during this time of the year, and you should focus on the activities that truly matter to you. Create a manageable schedule that allows for moments of rest and relaxation. This may mean that you can’t attend every event you’re invited to, or that you should be selective about the events you choose to host. If you take on too much over the holidays, it is a surefire way to cause your stress levels to spike.
Prioritizing self-care over the holidays is critical to managing your stress levels. Your overall wellbeing should drive the decisions you make regarding how you spend the holiday season.
Adopt Healthy Eating Habits
Holiday gatherings feature delicious food, but these meals aren’t typically very heart healthy. If you overindulge on unhealthy food during the holiday season, it can not only have a negative impact on your heart health, but it can also make it more challenging to manage stress. Poor nutrition impacts your stress levels in several ways:
- Unhealthy foods deprive your body of the nutrients it needs to run smoothly, including its ability to manage stress
- Eating large quantities of sugar and processed foods can increase inflammation in your body and brain, contributing to conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress
- Low nutrient, high calorie foods can increase your production of stress hormones such as cortisol
It’s OK to enjoy the rich foods and delicious flavors present at holiday meals, but it’s important to do so in moderation. Focus on eating reasonable portion sizes and whenever possible, balance the comfort food dishes on your plate with some heart healthy items such as vegetable sides.
In addition, prioritize eating a heart healthy diet throughout the holiday season. This is especially important if you experience holiday stress. When you’re not at holiday parties and enjoying large holiday meals, make sure your diet contains plentiful quantities of the following foods that can help reduce stress levels:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and herring
- Dark chocolate
- Green vegetables
- Citrus fruits
Incorporating regular exercise into your holiday routine is a powerful stress reduction tool. Exercise reduces your body’s level of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. It also stimulates the production of chemicals in your brain, called endorphins, which act as mood elevators.
It can be easy to let your exercise routine slide during the holidays when you’re very busy, but it’s important to prioritize physical activity at this time of the year. Whether it’s a brisk walk after dinner each night, getting in a quick home workout or going to the gym several days a week, getting regular exercise over the holidays will help you manage stress and maintain optimal heart health.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Quality sleep is critical to your ability to manage stress. When you get a good night’s sleep, it reduces your body’s levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Quality sleep also helps you regulate your moods, experience fewer negative emotions and recover faster from stressful events.
Make sure you maintain a sleep routine throughout the holiday season that promotes restful nights. Eliminate common sleep disruptors, such as excessive screen time prior to bedtime, to ensure your body receives the rest it needs. In addition, limit alcohol consumption in the evenings, as alcohol can negatively impact sleep.
Engage in Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques
Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness practices can be powerful tools to manage stress over the holidays. Incorporate these techniques into your daily life to cultivate a sense of calm and resilience when you’re dealing with holiday stress.
Seek Support When Needed
Don’t try to shoulder holiday stress alone. Communicate your feelings with loved ones, as they can help you get through these challenging times and provide you with additional support to manage your stress. In addition, recognize when professional help may be beneficial and don’t hesitate to seek out the assistance of a mental health professional if you’re experiencing severe holiday stress. Your support network, including friends, family and healthcare professionals, can play a critical role in helping you manage stress.
South Denver Cardiology Associates Can Help You Manage Holiday Stress
At South Denver Cardiology Associates, we’re here to help you manage stress and maintain optimal heart health during the holiday season. We offer a variety of services that will help you navigate the challenges and stressors which impact your heart health over the holidays:
- Our Mind/Body Studio can help you manage stress and focus on overall wellness
- Our Medical Fitness Gym will be open, providing you with an opportunity to stay physically active over the holidays
- Our Health and Healing Center provides nutrition education, customized exercise plans, massage therapy and other services that can help you manage stress and improve your mental health over the holidays
Contact us today to schedule an appointment. We serve patients in Denver, Littleton and the surrounding areas of Colorado.
As with any health concerns, your specific treatment program should be discussed thoroughly with your primary care physician as well as any specialists who may need to be consulted – like a cardiologist.Sign Up