Holiday Stress and Your Heart

December 16, 2010

It’s been a hot debate for years. But today, most researchers believe that stress and other psychological factors can help promote the development of heart disease. The holiday season is notorious for increasing stress levels, and according to research, increasing the number of heart attacks that occur.

Various studies in the Journal of the American Heart Association have linked mental stress, which usually increases during the holidays, with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and arrhythmia. Stress can also increase a person’s risk for high blood pressure, which if left untreated can damage your heart and kidneys as well as cause a stroke.

How does stress affect a person’s heart? When a person’s body experiences a stressful situation it begins to respond by producing hormones such as adrenaline that cause changes within the body including an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. When a person suffers from chronic stress, the constant production of hormones can cause the arteries in the heart to constrict promoting the development of blood clots.

Tips for Healthy Heart Protection During the Holidays

  • Depression and stress account for a 2.5 increase in a person’s risk for a heart attack. The best way to deal with stress during the holidays is by being realistic about expectations and achievable goals. Is it absolutely necessary to have all home-baked goodies? Maintaining heart healthy habits is always difficult during a time of year crammed with high-fat foods and busy activities. Try to avoid overindulging in high calorie foods and alcohol and limit caffeine consumption.
  • The winter months bring an increase in respiratory and flu infections. Research has shown that a person’s risk of heart attack is temporarily tripled in the 10 days following an acute respiratory tract infection. Adults over the age of 50 and patients with heart disease or other chronic illness are considered a high-risk category. People should talk to their doctors about getting a flu shot and possibly a pneumonia vaccination.
  • Dealing with a heavy snow fall, especially unpredictable driving conditions are certainly a stressor for many people. Shoveling show is a physical stress that can also increase a person’s risk for having a heart attack. Patients with heart disease or high blood pressure should consult their doctor before engaging in outdoor activities including shoveling snow. Other individuals should rest often during outdoor activities since the body is already working overtime just to stay warm.
  • Individuals should know their risk for heart disease including cholesterol and blood pressure. Floyd Memorial offers its free Take 2 screening that includes a comprehensive screening program and a one-on-one consultation with a nurse. Knowing the signs of a heart attack is equally important and could mean the difference between life and death. Warning signs include chest pain, shoulder, neck or arm pain, dizziness, fainting, sweating, nausea, shortness of breath and unexplained weakness or exhaustion.

For more information on Floyd Memorial’s Take 2 screening program and a free heart attack warning signs magnet, call 1-800-4-SOURCE (1-800-476-8723).