The “stress-free” secret for keeping your heart healthy this holiday season

The holidays can be stressful for anyone, but women who take on high-pressure tasks like refereeing family squabbles or planning holiday events may feel so much stress that they put themselves at risk for serious heart problems.

Why? Because this type of stress can lead to a potentially fatal condition called cardiomyopathy—particularly in women over age 50.

Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle is damaged due to great amounts of stress over a short period of time. The left ventricle of the heart becomes weakened and isn’t able to pump blood as well throughout the body, which can lead to heart failure in some cases.

Usually, doctors see cardiomyopathy in extreme athletes like marathon runners or long-distance skiers when they enter middle age. But a surplus of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline can also cause cardiomyopathy.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only heart condition that can result from holiday stress. Another thing to watch for is stress-induced blood pressure spikes—especially if you already have high blood pressure.

But you can lower your risk of holiday heart disease with these tips:

  1. Get help with heavy physical tasks, like lifting, moving, or unpacking decorations, holiday trees, or gifts.
  2. Monitor your blood pressure daily.
  3. Make sure to take time out for yourself and enjoy the special aspects of the season. That can include healthy physical activity like taking a long walk with a loved one, ice skating, or even a friendly snowball fight. And don’t forget to stop and have a warm cup of heart-healthy coffee, hot chocolate, or your favorite herbal tea.

After all, you want to spend the holidays at home with family and friends, not in the emergency room. (Hint: The doctors and nurses want to be home with family and friends too!)

But if you do experience sudden chest pains or shortness of breath during or after acute stress—either emotional or physical—call your doctor or 911 immediately.