3 Simple Tips to Beat Holiday Stress from a Doctor

|Updated Dec 12, 2022
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The holidays are not just the most wonderful time of the year, but also are unfortunately the unhealthiest time of the year for heart health, says a cardiologist who has advice for getting through the season intact, and even healthier than ever. Heart attacks spike 5 percent during the holiday season, in what doctors believe are stress-related events.

Between holiday cookies, fatty foods and the stress of traveling to see loved ones and getting your shopping done on time, staying heart-healthy can take a back seat. Don't let it, says this cardiologist. Staying healthy now is easier than you think with three simple strategies.

Dr. Satjit Bhusri, MD, Founder of Upper East Side Cardiology, wants you to be less stressed, and focus on how to be heart-healthier (now and for years to come), by doing three simple things, every day for de-stressing and building a strong heart. He should know, since at one point he wasn't just a doctor but also a patient, his heart failing to the point of being on a list for a heart transplant.

Luckily, he never needed that, and over time he built back his own health with these three lifestyle approaches, and he wants you to understand the importance of taking care of yourself by doing the little things that add up and have a big impact on your health and longevity.

To contextualize this advice, first, let's go back to a moment when it all came crashing down for Dr. Bhusri, and he suffered a near-fatal heart infection, which caused his heart to stop beating blood to the body and brain and landed him in a coma with near-complete heart failure. He learned, day by day, how to rebuild a strong heart, and now wants to spread the word that these same techniques can work for you, even if you are heart-healthy, you may be over-stressing your heart and your health on a daily basis. Here's how to fix it.

Dr. Bhusri's advice to help you get through the holidays healthier starts with his own story. Adopt his three simple strategies to counteract the health consequences of stress, for a more enjoyable and heart-healthy stress-free holiday starting today.

How to Stay Healthy During the Holiday Season

First, Dr. Bhusri shared a bit about his own health scare and his path back to good health.

"In July 2015 I had what is called full heart failure. My heart was so weak it was not pumping any blood to my body and my brain. Sometimes you get an infection and it goes to your throat or stomach, and sometimes it goes to your heart. It went to my heart muscle, which could have been fatal.

"That July I started having fevers and I thought I had pneumonia. I actually stopped breathing and was put into a medically induced coma for a month. It was quite touch-and-go and I was on a list waiting for a transplant and fortunately, my heart got better and stronger, and I was able to go home and start on oral meds instead of a drip and I was able to start cardiac rehab therapy.

"Once the infection was under control, then blood clots led to a secondary infection in my right hand and I almost lost my hand. I had to have surgery and they saved it. But essentially now, several years later, I am healthy and my heart pump is basically back to normal. So how did I do it? There are three keys to building a healthy heart, and right now, during the holidays, is a perfect time to start."

Here are Dr. Bhusri's tips to get healthy this season.

1. Daily Exercise

"When I had a failing heart, fortunately, it got stronger and I was able to start cardio-rehab-therapy, which is basically aggressive exercise. I tell my patients you can't just do something gentle, although walking is great for you. To build a bigger engine, you have to do something to make your heart really work, like High-Intensity Interval Training, known as HIIT."

That means exertion to the point of not being able to sustain it, in short bursts of activity. Think of calisthenics like a boot camp class where you do jumps or burpees, something hard for 20 seconds to a minute, and then relax and recover for the same interval and do it again.

Of course, it goes without saying that you need to check with your doctor first and make sure you are healthy enough to put this type of stress on your heart, but if you are, this is how to make that muscle stronger.

2. Eat Plant-Based

"When you have heart issues or want to get healthier, eat foods that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which are the healthy fats that help your body burn fuel efficiently, without storing calories as fat. Also, look for foods that are high in antioxidants, and often these are the same types of foods: Nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, and other plant-based sources. Vegan sources of Omega 3s that are high in nutrients include chia seeds, seaweed and algae, walnuts, hemp seeds, kidney beans, edamame, and soybean oil.

Plant-based diets are healthier but most people don't want to change their lifestyle unless they have to. It's easier to take a pill. It's hard to change your lifestyle. But you have to understand what type of nutrients you are eating and how they affect your body and your heart.

We have to get back to basics. We are the same humans we were 10,000 years ago. We have not changed. The society around us has changed.

3. Practice Mindfulness

"Being heart-healthy means taking care of your stress, and learning to let go of it, mentally and physically. The way to do this is to practice mindfulness every morning so that your thought process gets trained to focus on the positive aspects of your day and your life and not the things that are causing you stress, whether it's your to-do list or the world at large."

"There is an incredibly strong mind-heart relationship. The vagus nerve connects your brain to your breathing and is directly wired to your heart. This nerve attaches to the brain and then travels down your body and wires your brain to every organ at every level, including your heart and the gut. That is also your relaxation nerve, which tells your heart to beat slower and redirect blood to other areas when you are relaxed. So you can control exactly where your heart sends blood, just through your thoughts. This is a powerful idea since instead of feeling like a victim of stress, you can control it. But you have to choose to do so.

"There is a scientific approach to using mindfulness in medicine. By focusing on the breath, clearing the mind, and meditating, you can practice taking your stress and letting it go. Some people do this so well, Buddhist monks, for instance, that they slow their hearts down to the point where they can't even feel it beating."

Mindfulness is about being self-aware. Everything that does not require a pill takes time. The more you practice it, the more you get deeper and deeper into it, until you are in a state where you are not awake or asleep. it's a different state of consciousness.

"Everyone has an image that comes out to them. In that state for me, I am alone on a beach with blue skies and clear waters. Sometimes people have a different impression of themselves in that state. For some reason, my body is that of a lion, my 'spirit animal!' But if you ask my wife, she will say this is not what she gets out of it. Mindfulness is not about getting. It's how you experience it.

For my patients, who do all three –– exercise, plant-based diet, and mindfulness –– I have actively taken them off medication. It's the whole package. And it shows that the best medicine is a healthy lifestyle.

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ImageAbout Satjit Bhusri, MD, FACC, Founder of Upper East Side Cardiology. Dr. Bhusri completed all of his advanced medical training at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side of NYC. During his tenure he served as the Ira Hoffman, MD Chief Medical Resident, was President of the House Officer Association and served as Chief Cardiac Fellow. Dr. Bhusri graduated from Cornell University