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Holiday Depression and Heart Health

January 4, 2010

“Depression is more likely to break your heart than smoking or eating fatty food,” begins an article from the Harvard University Gazette. "Recurrence of cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, strokes, cardiac arrest, severe chest pain and other problems is more closely linked to depression than to high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, or diabetes," according to a Harvard Medical School publication.

Holiday Depression and Heart HealthDepressed people who also are anxious add to their problems. According to one recent study, whereas depression doubles the risk of heart problems recurring, anxiety triples that risk.

The Harvard publication notes that your mind and mood can push you into a chronic state of emergency readiness. Such people are ready to fight or run even when there's nothing to fight about or run from.

In real emergencies, stress hormones rise, blood vessels constrict, your heart speeds up, appetite slackens, and it's harder to fall asleep. Inflammatory chemicals increase in the blood, which becomes stickier in anticipation of wounds that will need healing. When the scare ends, this red alert shuts down - unless you are seriously depressed or anxious.

Then, stress hormones stay jacked up. Inflammation may damage the lining of your arteries. Blood vessels become less flexible. The heart responds more sluggishly to internal signals telling it to slow down as the body's demands change.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers some tips to keep your spirits up this holiday season.

  • Avoid thinking that everything has to be perfect.
  • Omit some of the holiday decorating or food preparation if it's too burdensome.
  • Lower your expectations for family gatherings.
  • Establish what your priorities are — to observe a religious holiday, gather around friends and family, or to simply spend some quiet time alone — and base your plans around those goals.