Holiday Heart Health: Identifying Signs and Managing Stress


There are plenty of reasons to love the holidays. From the cheer in your cup to gifts under the tree and time with loved ones to a delicious feast, we all have traditions we love to close out the year with and welcome the start of a new one. But those traditions can also bring plenty of stress.

For your heart, stress and too many holiday celebrations can combine to cause dangerous symptoms. In fact, research shows that the holidays bring roughly a 5% increase in heart-related deaths every year.

So, how can you keep yourself and your loved ones healthy and safe this holiday? Knowing the signs of holiday heart syndrome, when to seek care, and how to manage holiday stress are essential.

What is Holiday Heart Syndrome?

You may not know about holiday heart syndrome. This term is commonly used in the medical community to refer to an irregular heartbeat, usually atrial fibrillation (AFib). Though AFib can happen at any time of year from a variety of causes, it’s often associated with binge drinking and over-consumption that comes with the holidays.

When people are celebrating numerous holidays back-to-back and enjoying plenty of festivities at the end of the year, it’s more likely for binge drinking, overeating, and higher stress to occur.

Anyone can be affected by holiday heart syndrome. However, it’s more likely to affect those who have existing heart issues or are already at higher risk due to their family history.

What Does Holiday Heart Syndrome Feel Like?

Holiday heart syndrome is anything but holly and jolly. Symptoms are the same as those for AFib since this is the true underlying condition. As such, you might experience symptoms like:

  • Unusual decreased energy that lasts longer than a few days
  • Chest discomfort or pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations (fluttering or racing feeling that could seem like your heart is “skipping” beats”)
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Suddenly breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea and vomiting

Causes of Holiday Heart Syndrome

You might be surprised to hear that alcohol intake isn’t the only cause of irregular heartbeats around the holidays. Other festivity-related factors include stress, increased caffeine intake, and over-consumption of meals rich in fats and salt. For many people, these habits are prevalent around holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve. Let’s look at each a bit closer.

Alcohol Consumption

A popular study titled “Holiday Heart Syndrome Revisited After 34 Years” claims that alcohol has a significant effect on heart rhythms, both through chronic abuse and binge drinking. Indeed, alcohol raises your blood pressure and can contribute to plaque buildup in your blood vessels. Both of which put you at risk for arrhythmia, heart attack, and stroke. Over time, alcohol can also damage your heart tissue, a disease known as alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy.


Stress plays a crucial role in heart health. Around the holidays, many people are anxious about finding the right gift or cooking a ten-course feast for everyone. Unfortunately, this stress triggers the release of hormones like epinephrine, which can lead to an irregular heartbeat. The longer the stress is sustained, the more likely it is to harm your cardiovascular health.

Caffeine Intake

Whether you’re sipping a late-night coffee while catching up with relatives or chugging an energy drink on the road, many of us increase our caffeine intake around the holidays. However, too much caffeine can make your heart race. Combined with the dehydrating effect of caffeine, excess consumption increases your risk of arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat). When caffeine and alcohol are mixed, the risk gets even higher.

Poor Diet

We all love seeing a golden turkey and loads of side dishes on the table during the holidays. But those meals we enjoy are often high in fat and sodium. Overeating can lead to heart-related symptoms since salty, fatty foods have a negative impact on your blood pressure. The long-term effect of overeating is important to monitor since being overweight is another significant risk factor for heart disease.

Cold Weather

Did you know cold weather puts extra strain on your heart? It’s true! Your blood pressure goes up as the temperature goes down, making your heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body. The strain worsens if you’re participating in physical activity while it’s cold out, like shoveling snow or dragging your sled back up the hill.

Is Holiday Heart Syndrome Treatable?

With these many factors, it’s easy to see why holiday heart syndrome affects so many patients each year. Your heart has a lot to contend with during the holiday season. But can holiday heart syndrome be treated?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. While the best treatment is prevention, your doctor has several tools to help treat your symptoms.

One is known as cardioversion. This involves the use of several small electrical shocks that help reset your normal heartbeat. Keep in mind this should only be done by a trained provider and only in a healthcare setting.

Medications can also be used to treat arrhythmias. Your doctor may prescribe a medication like a beta-blocker or a blood thinner to help regulate your heartbeat and decrease the risk of complications from AFib.

Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Holiday Heart Syndrome

Holiday heart syndrome is a severe and life-threatening condition if not caught and treated. Happily, though, there are many steps you can take to decrease your risk and stay healthy during the holiday season. Here are a few of the most important ones.

Moderation is Key

Whether it’s alcohol, caffeine, or food, moderation is key. Feel free to enjoy your favorite treats during the holiday season, but avoid overindulging. While abstaining from alcohol is the only way to fully prevent it from causing holiday heart syndrome, this isn’t realistic for many people. Instead, experts recommend consuming adult beverages in moderation and drinking plenty of water throughout the night. The same goes for caffeine and unhealty foods.

Keep the Stress Low

Managing your stress levels is key to a healthy heart—during the holidays and every day! You probably can’t avoid stress entirely during the holidays, but trying your best to find ways to relax and recharge is essential. A few great strategies include:

  • Reading
  • Meditation
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Listening to music or a podcast
  • Exercise
  • Taking “self-care” time to decompress
  • Good hygiene habits

Velocity Urgent Care is Here to Help

If you think you’re having symptoms of holiday heart syndrome, you should seek medical care right away. Velocity Urgent Care is here for all your health needs this winter.

Whether you’re feeling down from a cold or the flu, suffering a sprained joint or broken bone, or experiencing a cut or burn while preparing the holiday feast, our trained providers are ready to evaluate your symptoms and get you back on your feet.

Stop in any of our conveniently located clinics across Virginia for rapid care when you need it, or make an appointment with our online registration portal to skip the waiting room. We even offer text message updates so you can wait in the car (if you prefer) until it’s time for your appointment.

We’ve put strict sterilization protocols into place and are carefully handling patients who may be contagious to ensure each of our clinics is safe for those who need urgent medical care or occupational health services.

Velocity Urgent Care is an in-network provider for most major insurance plans, meaning you can be seen for the cost of your co-pay and deductible.

All our locations also accept Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. Veterans Administration beneficiaries are also welcome.

To learn more about our services, locations, hours, and more, visit www.velocityuc.com.