With Christmas just around the corner it’s easy to get caught up in the stress and chaos it causes. Your busy life becomes even more hectic as extra shopping, cooking, and spending create additional anxiety. And with so much going on, you may feel it’s simply easier to ignore the symptoms of heart disease and to put the demands of friends and family before your own health needs.
Perhaps you take pride in being able to accomplish a multitude of tasks and trying to be everything to everyone. But the extra pressure and responsibilities at Christmas can feel overwhelming, and this can have a negative impact on both your physical and mental health.
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for men and women. So taking care of heart health is important, and that includes avoiding risk factors or behaviours that lead to heart disease, recognising the symptoms, and seeking treatment if you experience the signs.
Risk factors for heart disease
As you may know, the main risk factors for heart disease include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking and obesity. But stress, anxiety and depression also affect heart health, in particular the kind of intense stress caused by divorce, family conflicts, death of a loved one, prolonged illness or natural disasters. What’s more, studies tell us that depression and stress are associated with heart attacks and can also have a negative effect on recovery.
How does stress lead to heart attacks?
Exactly how stress leads to a heart attack is still being studied. But we do know that it can increase blood pressure and result in hypertension, which leads to heart disease and plaque build-up in the coronary arteries. Stress can also raise the level of cortisol (a stress hormone) circulating in your
body, and this can affect clotting and how your body controls involuntary functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. And of course stress also can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as eating too much, substance abuse, and not exercising.
Managing holiday stress
Christmas can bring the most cherished moments, but it can also be the most stressful time of year. You may carry expectations influenced by memories and social pressures ― a happy smiling family photo, the tempting aromas of home cooking, seeing a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, or singing your favourite carol. However, these visions don’t always match reality, and that can result in stress.
At any time, but especially during the festive period, the key to coping is setting realistic expectations. Try taking a few moments to write down what would make the holidays an enjoyable time with those you love. And let go of the things that add stress and no joy.