Oh the holidays! A source of great joy for many, especially for the youngest among us. However, it can also be a very real and very powerful source of immense stress. Between parties, shopping, and our regular day-to-day responsibilities, life inevitably become busier, hectic, and irregular; all which contribute to our increased stress levels.
A study from the University of Melbourne found a 4% increase in heart related deaths between Christmas and the new year. Let’s break down some of the culprits which affect our stress levels and learn how to keep our heart healthy this holiday season.
- Eat, drink, and be merry! As we go from holiday party to holiday party, we eat more sweets, fattier foods, and drink more alcohol than we normally do. Consuming more of these foods is not the best for our heart health. When you find yourself feeling tempted make sure to balance out some of the unhealthier options with more heart-healthy options like the veggie tray, fruit plate, or shrimp cocktail. And be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and ultimately consume less alcohol.
- Family. Yes, we love them, but sometimes in large doses it can put a lot of pressure on our hearts. All families have their unique dynamics so focus your energy on those with whom you connect best with. If there is drama between certain people or you just can’t stand cousin Joe, keep your distance and avoid any topics that could stir the pot.
- Money. It is better to give than to receive. While this old saying may have much truth to it, it can also increase stress if we begin to overspend, go outside our means, or simply can’t afford to give what we wish we could. Guilt, shame, and sleepless nights can do quite a number on our stress levels, none of which is good for our hearts. Remember the other old saying; “It’s the thought that counts”. There are many meaningful gift options for the ones you love, such as hand-made gifts, framing a special photo or child’s artwork, or simply the gift of spending time together.
- Traveling. This could simply mean crawling though rush hour traffic on Route 1 only to enter a congested mall parking lot full of grumpy consumers or maybe it’s preparing for a cross-country, two-layover flight on Christmas Eve with a snowstorm in the forecast. In either case, we can’t get to where we’re going fast enough, which more than likely is somewhere we don’t even want to be. It’s a hard one to avoid, and an even harder one to navigate peacefully, especially if you’re traveling as a group. If you’re driving alone, try listening to some peaceful music or a mindful meditation. For more complex, longer journeys, take deep breaths frequently, and remember: everyone around you probably feels the same way so try to be patient and compassionate with other travelers. Your heart (and theirs) will thank you.
- Disruption of routine. During the holidays we usually break our routines. Instead of staying home most nights we’re out late at holiday work or social events. Workouts and fitness classes take a backseat to pictures with Santa or tree-trimming. As creatures of habit, our bodies go into a stress response when we move out of these regimented routines and our hearts bear the burden of this response. Try to fit in some time for yourself throughout the month with a yoga classes, earlier bedtimes when you can, and remembering that even during the holiday season, boundaries matter and you don’t have to RSVP Yes to every single thing. You’re not a Grinch, you’re practicing balance, self-care, and wellness.
At the end of the day, we’re all under immense stress this time of year and small acts of kindness and grace will go a long way. So, stay safe, be kind to your fellow humans, and Happy Holidays!