‘Tis the season of indulgence. However, if you aren’t careful, holiday celebrations can leave you with more than just a little heartburn – in fact, much worse.
“It’s OK to enjoy the holiday meals, and it’s OK to have fun with family and friends, but recognize that just because it’s a special day for you, doesn’t mean your pre-existing heart condition has suddenly gone away,” Daniel Green, MD, a cardiologist at Bon Secours – Upstate Cardiology, warns.
There are many different reasons the holidays can be hard on your heart: from the poor food choices as we indulge in holiday treats to the stress of holiday gatherings that often over-fill our calendars. There can also be heavy drinking during this time of year, which can be a problem all on its own.
“There’s actually a well-defined phenomenon called ‘holiday heart’ where people drink to an excess, and it can cause heart rhythm problems,” Dr. Green shares.
Overall, the biggest challenge people encounter during the holidays is a break in routine. So, it’s important to have a plan that will help you maintain your healthy habits.
“All the things we know we need to do, we also need to do on the holidays,” Dr. Green says. “So, you have to be cognizant of the fact that your schedule’s changing, and you have to be more deliberate about making sure you’re doing all those things you need to do to maintain your health, in particular taking your medications.”
Being realistic is also a key part of ensuring your holidays are both merry and healthy. Remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
“If you tell yourself ‘I’m not going to have any of the goodies this year,’ you’ll probably fight that urge for a few hours and then give in and overindulge, because you don’t have a plan going into it,” Dr. Green explains. “Instead, allow yourself to enjoy the holidays, but have a plan about how much you’re going to indulge.”
Realizing the holidays do come with a certain amount of stress can also help you plan ahead on how to keep those stress levels to a minimum. Too much stress can have a big impact on your heart by increasing your blood pressure, impacting your sleep and leading to other poor choices like overindulgence.
“I think the holidays are an important time for everyone. We want to be together, and we’ve known since the COVID-19 outbreak that it’s important for us to spend time with one another,” Dr. Green adds. “However, as important as they are, relationships can be stressful. Going into the holidays with that in mind can help you be prepared for those moments of conflict, such as your cousin bringing a pan of King’s Hawaiian rolls instead of the side they were supposed to bring. A certain level of expectation can help you respond in a more positive and healthy way, or even pull yourself out of a situation you know might be angering.”
The holiday season can also result in physical stress when people start doing things we don’t normally do. That might be taking part in a family football game that gives you a workout you’re not used to or finding yourself shoveling snow due to the colder weather. Changes in your activity level – for whatever reason – can affect your health, so it’s important to keep that in mind.
And last but not least, don’t wait if you feel something’s off. According to Dr. Green, fewer patients typically come in during the holidays. Unfortunately, that usually leads to a rise in post-holiday health problems – including heart attacks.
“The main reason we don’t see people during the holiday is they want to be at home with their family,” Dr. Green says. “However, delaying treatment can be extremely dangerous. It’s really important to listen to your body and if you’re having a problem, go and get seen, because missing out on one holiday is a lot better than failing to act when you could have and then missing out on all of the holidays.”
Learn more about the heart and vascular services we provide at Bon Secours.