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No need to get too worked up at holidays

Let’s be honest. Even in the best of circumstances, this time of year can be hard on our hearts. But does it need to be this way? What, as the song goes, does it take to “let your heart be light?”

People experience more emotional stress around the holidays due to family situations, financial concerns, and pressure to live up to the holiday expectations that corporate America has been feeding us since September.

Physically, there is plenty of research showing that heart attacks and arrythmias are more common during this time of year thanks to increased eating, drinking, stress, and ignoring concerning symptoms because who, after all, wants to be the one to break up a party with a 911 call?

Reducing these physical risks is fairly simple. If you drink, limit your alcohol consumption. Keep yourself well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Don’t go overboard on all the high fat, high sugar foods, and get enough sleep. If you have heart or other symptoms, let someone know and get medical care.

The emotional stressors may be harder to manage but are just as important. You might not be able to choose your family, but you can limit your exposures to the people or situations that cause you stress. And when you can’t avoid a situation, try to stay on the fringes and direct your focus away from the stressors.

Financially, it is possible to keep gift-giving without straining a budget. A thoughtful card or photo with a note sharing what the recipient means to you will be more appreciated than another trinket. If you are caught up in gift exchanges, a small donation to a cause favored by the recipient allows you to manage the budget and show that you care.

The most important, “let your heart be light” part is up to you. Making your heart happy in this way is healthy, doesn’t need to cost a dime, reduces stress, and goes way beyond the holiday season.

What are the people, places or experiences that just make you feel good inside? For some of us it might be time with an older neighbor and the wisdom they share, a walk in the local park, coffee with a friend, or volunteering in the community.

Give yourself the gift of a few minutes this holiday season to identify what truly makes your heart feel light, and then commit to investing more time with those people, at those places, doing those things. Your heart will thank you.

CHQ250 is an initiative of the Chautauqua Health Action Team (CHAT), encouraging you to take action to be one of at least 250 strokes, heart attacks, or related deaths prevented in Chautauqua County in the coming year. This column is written by CHAT members to share information to help you to do your part to live a life free of stroke or heart disease; it is not intended to replace advice provided by your healthcare team. Please direct questions or comments to: activecounty@co.chautauqua.ny.us.

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