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Tips for controlling holiday stress

December 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Shopping, wrapping presents, trying to fit your gift list into your budget -- all of these can cause holiday stress and anxiety. But how does all that stress affect your heart? And what can you do to reduce anxiety levels this holiday season?On her lunch break and Allison Trask ran around trying to buy ornaments.

"Too many people to shop for and not enough time to get it done. And with the economy the way that it is, I work at a bank and I'm getting laid off, and that on top of everything," said Trask.

Dr. John M. Kennedy says Allison is dealing with the chronic stress of new parenthood, plus a shaky job situation, and acute holiday stress. Both release hormones that harm the heart.

"We see each year now the greatest numbers of heart attack and death from heart disease on Christmas and New Years," said Dr. John M. Kennedy.

A report from the American College of Cardiology also shows how stress-induced anxiety and depression leads to more sedentary lifestyles and poor food choices.

"The diet goes out the window," said Trask.

If stress is getting you physiologically and emotionally to the point where you don't want to do anything about it, experts say the best way to get out of this vicious cycle is to nip stress in the bud.

"And stop for a minute while you're stuck in traffic, which you can't control and breathe," said Dr. Kennedy.

Breathing is the first part of Dr. Kennedy's seven step process which includes visualization, but breathing helps vary your heart rate.

"When you take a deep breathe in, your heart rate goes up and when you exhale your heart rate goes down and that variability in heart rate turns out to be cardioprotective," said Dr. Kennedy.

It's one of the reasons couch potatoes are at higher risk for heart attacks. Their heart rates remain the same. An unchanging heart rate is also linked to depression and inflammation.

So the next time, you're feeling the heat of holiday stress try to relax, take your time, and remember to be happy.

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