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'Tis the Season For Spikes in Deadly Health Issues

Photograph by Twenty20

There's a reason people who work in medical professions refer to Merry Christmas coronaries and Happy Hanukkah heart attacks. Heart attacks spike around the December holidays, which are all right around the corner.

I'm all too familiar with them. A couple of years ago, I ended up in the ER on New Years Day, my heart beating close to 200 bpm. I hadn't even been exercising.

Instead, I was stressed, exhausted, home with three kids. I was emotionally drained and super dehydrated. Doctors diagnosed a heart condition shortly afterwards, and I have dealt with it ever since, even joining a women's support group at UCLA.

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At an intimate meeting I attended recently, two other women in the small room had had heart attacks the EXACT same day my own heart issue became apparent. Also attending were a few of the top cardiologists. One of the women, a mom in early 50s, said she kept ignoring this nagging feeling something wasn't right. Finally, after feeling ashamed, she drove herself to the ER. She had been having a massive heart attack, and the ER doctor saved her life. At the meeting, though, the doctor made it clear that the woman saved her own life by listening to her body.

Keep in mind the statistics and where you fit in: Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death to women, not breast cancer.

Be sure you're listening to yours. And before things get out of hand, stop and think about what you can do to take care of yourself and not get overwhelmed. As the holidays approach, I beg you all to not try to make it perfect. I'm no role model. I mean, I'm a minimalist, and I still struggle.

But here are things I have done—and continue to do—to help my heart and soul stay calm.

In terms of shopping? I will tell you this, it is over. I'm done. I'm in an inter-faith marriage—Christian and Jewish—which does not mean more presents, just extra consideration into the dispersment of them. Before Thanksgiving, I had already bought everything online, even the stocking stuffers. If you haven't started, consider cutting back, spending more for convenience—whatever it takes to not sacrifice health, happiness and calm.

I'll also probably order food instead of trying to cook it all. We don't have a lot of family around, and my kids are 4, 5 and 9. Instead of trying to re-create what I had when I was little and part of a bigger family, I have now succumbed to the idea that, really? It just doesn't matter. What does matter, especially to my kids, is that I'm not having a nervous breakdown.

Also: Drink water.

And get sleep.

But grace and peace are great goals that everyone achieves in her own way. Be true to what you need to achieve them.

And be honest with yourself about who can and who cannot come over. I have eliminated a truly toxic person from my life, and I feel the difference. If you are at the mercy of someone like this, go see a therapist, go to an Al-Anon meeting—but know that if someone is abusing you in some way, you do not need to be around them. Just say no.

Keep in mind the statistics and where you fit in: Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death to women, not breast cancer. Heart disease is also quite preventable due to our lifestyle. So while some stress is inevitable, please show yourself and your family grace this month.

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We do not need to aim for Pinterest-level decorations and table settings, unless of course you have a staff or a huge happy family or friends who all collaborate. And creating this kind of thing actually brings you calm. In that case, go for it.

But grace and peace are great goals that everyone achieves in her own way. Be true to what you need to achieve them.

Take time for yourself, your friends, and your kids and spouse. You will truly have a Merry Christmas or a Happy Channukah or, as in our house, both.

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