Merry Heart Attack and Happy New Depression

By Camilla Duus As, Marissa Ray and Anne Gotfredsen

Controversies of the Christ in Christmas aside – we are approaching a holiday that is recognized as a major festival and public holiday throughout greater parts of the world.

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This and other festivals and celebrations are times to be merry, jolly, carefree and indulge in the good and even luxurious items available. In Denmark – our present location – the time leading up to, and throughout the month of December, is abundant with cookies, cakes, marzipan, nougat and chocolate, pork roasts, pork cracklings, duck and goose, caramelized potatoes, nut pâté’s, sauces and oranges and the list goes on and on and on and on….  Nothing screams holiday and celebration like lots of food. And we wouldn’t celebrate the season very well if we didn’t use every possible opportunity to treat ourselves and others to a little of everything – and then just one more cookie – now would we?

Historically the indulgence makes some sense: in post WWII my grandparents’ fondest memories of Christmas describe the magical event of receiving one orange in his Christmas stocking. That was extraordinary and lavish!

Happy Heart Attack Holiday

Today, however, in the era of Hypermarkets, online convenience shopping and irresponsible food waste, the stockings are overflowing with luxuries.

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Somewhere in between the ‘yuletide carols’ and ‘sledging in the snow’, too much food fill our plates. Moving on to the mountain of presents lifting up the Christmas tree from the floor, we flush all of it down with sugary and alcohol beverages in an attempt to make room for dessert. Yet the news stories on Boxing Day that several ER patients with presumed heart attacks were discharged with the diagnosis ‘overeating’ becomes a laughing matter.

Research has shown that the Holidays have become a risk factor for death and has been deemed “The Merry Christmas Coronary and Happy New Year Heart Attack” phenomenon.

Have a Blue Blue Christmas…

Elvis Presley isn’t the only one suffering from a ‘Blue Christmas’. In fact, a lot of us experience stress, unhappiness and depression during the holidays. When stores and streets are crowded with Christmas decorations, weeks or even months in advance, there is time enough to be reminded of what the “perfect Christmas” looks like. Plenty of duties and demands to tend to like succeeding with the roast, finding the right presents, scrub the house spotless, have enough money for it all and finally find time to actually celebrate Christmas with your loved ones.

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Here we can add an extra layer on our stress cake. Social demands in form of heightened expectations on joyful family togetherness, can be trying and increase the risk for conflicts. Christmas pressure can result in headaches, loss of appetite, poor concentration, bad temper, sleep disturbances, anxiety and feelings of unhappiness and depression. In addition, stress compromise your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to colds and other infections, especially if you are exposed to more people during the holiday. Longstanding stress can contribute to heart disease, stroke and cancer. If you live a stressful life during the rest of the year, a hectic Christmas can push your health in a seriously wrong direction.

As the holidays are so associated with social gatherings it can be very difficult for those of us being on our own, to avoid feeling lonely at this time of year. Not having somebody to celebrate the holidays with can be difficult and painful for many and often viewed as a “social failure”, even when the solitude is voluntary.  Holidays in general can be a hurtful reminder of what once was. The loss of loved ones by death, separation or conflicts, or being far apart from them can result in sadness and isolation.   Particularly older people are more likely to spend Christmas on their own for different reasons, which could be related to being alone and/or disability, bad weather, crowds and increased noise.

Holiday Accidents 

Every year your “beloved” neighbor strives to have the best Christmas decorations, but this year you’ve had enough. It’s snowy, dark, and cold but you don’t care, you’re going to climb the ladder and put up those Christmas lights and for once have the best display. You were almost finished with the second story lights when you lost your footing and you find yourself flat on the driveway pavement with a broken leg.

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This scenario is all too common among the holiday season with an estimated 13000 people in the US alone being hospitalized for injuries related to holiday decorating.

Besides accidents relating to holiday decorating; alcohol consumption is another leading cause for injuries from the time between “Black Wednesday” and New Year’s Eve. It is estimated that 40% of traffic-related deaths occurring during the holiday season are alcohol related, a 12% increase from the monthly average in the US.

Data over the years has proven that the holidays is a time for increased visits to the emergency room due to holiday celebrations and preparation gone wrong. When you mix stress, joy, crowded family get-togethers, and increased alcohol consumption from the wonderful Eggnog; it’s a breeding ground for accidents.

Christmas is a time for celebration and festivities, but stay safe and take care of yourself. Send a card or call an old friend you haven’t talked to in a long time. Eat mindfully, take a walk and get some fresh air. Adjust your expectations and have a happy holiday!

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