The holidays are supposed to be carefree, but in fact holiday stress can increase the risk of heart disease and other conditions, especially when it comes to women’s health.
The holidays can bring unwelcome guests and a long list of demands, such as shopping, parties, cooking, baking, wrapping, cleaning and entertaining. It’s no wonder so many people experience holiday stress.
According to an American Psychology Association survey, over 20 percent of the U.S. population experiences extreme stress, so if you add holiday anxiety to the mix, it’s no wonder that our health pays the price.
While many people just choose to “grin and bear it” during the holiday season, others soon realize that holiday stress has to stop.
Related reading: Helping others reduces effects of stress
Too much holiday pressure can lead to heart damage in women
Experts say that holiday stress puts women at risk of heart problems. Doctor Karla Kurrelmeyer, a cardiologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, has stated publicly that more than a few cases of stress-induced cardiomyopathy are seen around the holiday season. In cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or rigid. In some cases, the muscle tissue of the heart is replaced with scar tissue. Stress-induced cardiomyopathy happens when stress hormones weaken the heart’s main pumping chamber.
“Someone experiencing this condition might develop chest pains or shortness of breath after severe stress, either emotional or physical,” Kurrelmeyer has said.
Stress-induced cardiomyopathy is most common in women in their late 50s to mid-70s. For many women, the holidays cause an increase in blood pressure. This puts them at an increased risk for chest pains and heart palpitations. People who have a history of high blood pressure should be closely monitoring their pressure when they are under added stress.
Doctors warn that whether it is holiday stress or some other event, such as a death in the family, loss of job or loss of a relationship, signs like chest pains and heart palpitations should be taken seriously. If ignored, stress-induced heart problems can be fatal.
Related reading: Simple tips to reduce stress this holiday season
Previous study shows women experience more holiday stress than men
Studies conducted in the past indicated that women experience more stress during the holiday season than men do.
One survey from 2006 showed that close to 50 percent of women in the United States report an increase in stress during the holiday season, while only around 30 percent of men say they get stressed out during the holidays. Women indicated that a lack of time and money, as well as pressure to give gifts, were some of the biggest stressors.
Psychologists say part of what concerns them is the lack of attention women pay to reaching a lower stress level. It turns out that a lot of people are using unhealthy strategies to cope with holiday stress. About 40 percent have admitted to turning to food to deal with stress, while close to 30 percent admit they use alcohol to deal with it.
Women who experience stress have reported a number of different symptoms aside from chest pains and heart palpitations. Many people under stress complain about headaches, indigestion, fatigue, muscular tension, insomnia and low sex drive.
Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives, but it is important for the sake of your health to learn how to handle it.
Related reading: Good news – unhappiness and stress won’t kill you
Tips to avoid and manage holiday stress
There are ways to relieve your stress if you find that it is really impacting you. Studies show that the average American spends about 42 hours per year on holiday activities, so it is easy to see how squeezing so much extra into a busy day can be hard to manage.
If holiday pressure is dragging you down, you might want to try some of the following to relieve your stress:
- Create the holiday you want – make clear decisions before the holidays about how you want to spend your time and money.
- Try to stick to schedules – put the kids to bed and eat at the regular time, as much as possible.
- Involve the kids – your children can be a great help when it comes to decorating, baking, etc., and you will be creating fun memories.
- Get creative with giving – some people draw names, some people make gifts – you don’t have to go into debt to have a nice holiday season.
- Postpone family feuds – if something is bothering you, try addressing it with a family member after the holidays.
- Use compassion – don’t focus on the way people “should be”, just accept them the way they are and allow the tension to release from your body so you can enjoy the holidays.
- Maintain your health – remember to eat right, exercise and get a good night’s sleep.
- Consider mindful techniques – techniques such as meditation and yoga have be proven to relieve stress.
It’s important to keep in mind that the holidays don’t have to be perfect or the same as they were the previous years. Families and friends do change, so traditions can change as well. While it is okay to hold on to a few old traditions, being open to creating new ones leaves room for the unknown. For example, in today’s technologically driven world, we don’t have to be anxious if someone can’t come to our house for a visit; we can still celebrate together by sharing pictures, e-mails or videos.