Keep holiday spirits high, not blood pressure

  • The holiday season brings added stress that could affect blood pressure.
  • These tips from the American Heart Association help you handle the holiday stress.

Ho, ho, ho, it’s a lot of stress for everyone you know.

The busy holiday season is here, and with it come the holiday parties, delicious desserts, flu season and even added stress, says the American Heart Association. For the nearly 80 million American adults who have high blood pressure, holiday happenings can sabotage efforts to keep blood pressure in a healthy range.

“There’s millions of people out there who need this message and need to be a little more mindful during this time of year,” AHA York County spokeswoman Larissa Bedrick said.

To keep holiday spirits high, but your blood pressure under control, the AHA has a few suggestions.

Avoid stress if you can, and manage it in healthy ways. “One of the ways that stress can affect blood pressure is some of the things people do when they get stressed,” Bedrick said. While it may not directly cause high blood pressure, chronic stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices.

“When they get stressed, they may tend to eat comfort foods that are higher in fat, sugar and salt, and many of those foods can affect your blood pressure," she said.

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Skip the salt. Sodium increases blood pressure by holding onto excess fluid in the body, placing an added burden on the heart. If your blood pressure is high, your doctor might recommend a low-salt diet or advise you to avoid salt altogether. Since most sodium in our diets is from packaged food, eating fresh foods makes it less likely you'll eat too much sodium.

“Someone who already has high blood pressure has to make a conscious effort to avoid those foods,” she said.

Bedrick suggests getting family members and friends to help you make healthy choices.

“Keep healthy snacks around, making sure you have that balance with some healthier snacks like fresh veggies,” she said. “Having those on hand and just as easy to grab as the cookies can help you make smarter decisions.”

Avoid decongestants. Many over-the-counter cold and flu medicines contain decongestants that increase blood pressure. Bedrick says to check the label on decongestants if you have high blood pressure to make sure the cold- or flu-fighting medicine you’ve purchased is safe to use.

Take care of sleep apnea. Pauses in breathing while you sleep can not only make you tired the next day, but poor quality sleep can contribute to high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about treating sleep apnea and set yourself up for a restful night sleep by getting regular physical activity during the day, limiting consumption of alcohol and caffeine and following a regular bedtime routine.

Don’t forget your medicine. According to the AHA, high blood pressure is sometimes called "the silent killer" because it has no symptoms, so you may not be aware that it's damaging your arteries, heart and other organs. However, if you do know you need to take medication to manage blood pressure, keep track of it, Bedrick said.

“It’s a good idea just in case,” she said. “If you know it’s already a problem for you, keep these in mind.”

For more information on managing blood pressure, go to