Christmas Eve is the most common time to suffer a heart attack

Christmas Eve is the most common day of the year to have a heart attack due to festive stress, study finds

  • Attacks peak at 10pm on the night before Christmas due to stress and anxiety
  • Swedish study compared 280,000 dates and times of attacks over 16 years 
  • There is also an elevated risk of 20% on New Years Day, but none on Easter 

Christmas Eve is the most common day of the year to suffer a heart attack, researchers have found.

Academics compared the dates and times of 280,000 heart attacks to take place over 16 years in Sweden.

They found heart attacks peaked at 10pm on December 24.

They believe emotional stress and anxiety increases the risk – especially among over-75s or those already suffering from diabetes or heart disease.

Christmas Eve is the most common day of the year to suffer a heart attack, with a 37 per cent higher risk, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have found. 

The scientists, writing in the British Medical Journal, said strategies should be developed to protect these people from stress in the run-up to Christmas.

The researchers, led by experts at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, found the risk of a heart attack rises by 37 per cent on Christmas Eve.

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Christmas Day is slightly safer, with a 29 per cent increased risk, and on Boxing Day the risk is up by 21 per cent.

New Year’s Eve is no more dangerous than any other day of the year, but on New Year’s Day the risk rises again by 20 per cent.

The researchers wrote: ‘Acute experience of anger, anxiety, sadness, grief, and stress increases the risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack] and thus possibly explains the higher risk observed in our study.

‘It is possible that family members visiting relatives after a long time apart find them in a poor general condition and decide to admit them to hospital.’ 

But they added: ‘If this were the case, we would expect to see a decline in the number of [heart attacks] in the weeks after Christmas compared with the weeks leading up to the holiday.’

Over the year as a whole, they found Mondays are associated with a higher risk – when heart attacks increase 10 per cent.

And 8am is the most dangerous time of day, with heart attack incidence going up 60 per cent.

The researchers said ‘stressful Mondays’ probably cause a rise in arterial blood pressure and heart rate.

On Christmas Eve, however, 10pm is most dangerous time, when the risk more than doubles compared to the rest of the day.

The researchers stressed that Christmas Eve in Sweden is the main day of celebration – and therefore the time when heightened emotions will most likely reach their peak – so in Britain the risk might be higher on Christmas Day itself.

Unlike previous studies, no increased risk was seen during sports events or during the Easter period. 

How to avoid family arguments at Christmas with these three steps, according to a psychologist 

Psychologist Nicholas Joyce, from the University of South Florida, revealed the three steps advises for avoiding family arguments in a piece for The Conversation:

I teach my clients a life skill called the ‘letting go process’. It involves three steps:

Such a process has to be utilized continually during the holidays, when we are often once again confronted with dynamics and personalities we try to escape in our day-to-day lives.

So what does this look like in practice?

Jane is going home for a week to be with her family for the holidays. She is already dreading the trip, and in particular having to interact with her mother, who Jane knows will comment on her weight gain and criticize her for being single.

So, using the letting go system, when Jane arrives and Mom asks her why Jane looks fatter than the last time Mom saw her, Jane:

The change route would involve engaging in a behavior to address the experience she is having: namely, Mom’s comments toward her. 

Jane could take an assertive stance and respond with an ‘I statement’ such as ‘I feel really upset when you comment on my weight and I would appreciate it if you refrained from doing so for the rest of the time I am home.’

At this point we do not know how Mom will respond, but we focus less on that outcome and instead on the process of what Jane can control. 

The process here is Jane’s own behavior in response to Mom. Mom may get defensive or angry, but Jane can feel good that she is standing up for herself.

Alternatively, Jane could also choose to go the letting go route. By being able to notice her hurt and frustration in the moment, Jane becomes less reactive and is better able to not engage with Mom in an argument like has happened in the past. 

Jane is able to respond to Mom in a different way, or possibly not at all, changing the subject entirely.

Jane could simply respond by asking Mom how she is doing or acknowledge that yes, she has gained weight. Jane is able to prevent her reaction from further escalating the possible conflict in the moment. 

This may seem overly simplistic, but with practice we can better let go of things that used to catch us and trap us into acting in unproductive ways.

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