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November 26, 2008 > Stressed Out About the Holidays? Take These Tips To Heart

Stressed Out About the Holidays? Take These Tips To Heart

Learn How to Manage Stress At Upcoming Seminar

The holiday season is supposed to be a joy-filled time of celebrations among family and friends. Unfortunately, the holidays can sometimes wreak havoc with your health. Factors such as stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and increased alcohol consumption can leave you feeling exhausted and put you at risk for a variety of health problems, including heart attacks.

"While stress, in and of itself, is not a primary risk factor for heart attacks, excessive continuous emotional stress can contribute to heart disease," says Washington Hospital cardiologist Dr. David Berke. "Plus, some of the behaviors people sometimes use to cope with stress - such as smoking, overeating and consuming too much alcohol - definitely add to your risk for heart disease."

Dr. Berke notes that some risk factors for cardiovascular disease and heart attacks are beyond your control, such as your age, sex and family history. Yet people who pay attention to certain other risk factors can dramatically reduce their chances of a heart attack.

"The most common risk factors that you can control are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poorly controlled diabetes, smoking and eating a diet rich in saturated and trans fats," he explains. "Other risk factors include obesity and lack of exercise.

"New evidence recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association also indicates that people who have elevated levels of HSCRP - highly sensitive C-reactive protein - also are at higher risk for heart attacks, even if they have normal levels of cholesterol and lipids," Dr. Berke adds. "Blood tests for HSCRP will likely become part of the routine screenings used to determine people's risks for heart attacks."

Making changes in your lifestyle to control those risk factors isn't always easy, but it is definitely worth the effort. Those same heart-healthy lifestyle choices also can help you manage your stress levels better - even during the holidays.

"Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that reduces your stress levels is not impossible during the holidays," says family medicine physician Dr. Than Luu. "Yes, those holiday goodies can pose a challenge to sticking with a healthy diet, and it's okay to treat yourself during the holidays - but that doesn't mean you have to eat an entire pumpkin pie by yourself."

Other tips for dealing with diet challenges during the holiday include:
* Keep a regular schedule for meals, and don't skip meals just because you're going to have a big meal later in the day.
* If you're hosting a party, be sure to have low-calorie, nutritious foods and beverages available for your guests - and yourself.
* When you're at a party, don't just stand around the food tables. Mingle with the guests - instead of the food - and walk around so you're less tempted to keep eating.
* Don't try to start a weight-loss diet during the holidays. You'll only be setting yourself up for failure. Your goal should simply be to maintain your weight or at least minimize holiday weight gain.
Many people tend to reduce or stop their regular exercise regimens during the holidays because they claim they are too busy or too tired, but that can increase your stress, rather than reduce it.

"Exercise is a great stress reducer and sleep enhancer, so it's important to keep up your physical activities," Dr. Luu says. "If you can't get to the gym, try to work other physical activities into your holiday schedule. For example, you could park as far away from the doors of the shopping center as possible so you get more exercise walking to and from the stores. You also could plan fitness activities such as a family walk, football game or basketball game for before or after a holiday dinner."

If you decide to partake of alcoholic beverages during the holidays, Dr. Luu advises that you avoid drinking in excess. "Some people think that an alcoholic drink might lessen the stress of the holiday season, but some studies show that alcohol actually increases the body's stress response," he says. " Plus, alcohol can contribute to depression, which is not uncommon during the holidays and winter months."

The best way to reduce your stress level during the holidays is to keep your expectations reasonable. "Don't feel you have to accept every holiday invitation you receive," Dr. Luu says. "Keep your gift list and holiday spending within reason to avoid the added strain of financial worries - especially in these difficult financial times. Be sure to get enough rest - don't let too many activities deprive you of the sleep you need.

"Above all, you should spend your holiday time with people you enjoy and not feel guilty for bowing out of gatherings with people who make you feel uncomfortable or anxious," he adds. "At the end of the day, your health, your family and your happiness are the best holiday gifts of all."

To help people learn more about managing stress during the holidays and reducing the risk for a heart attack, Dr. Luu and Dr. Berke will present a special Health & Wellness seminar on these topics on Tuesday, December 2 from 1 to 3 p.m. The seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. For more information about the seminar, or to register to attend, please call (800) 963-7070.

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