Guard against stress, illness – and peril – during the holidays


The holiday season with all its happy moments and fun activities also brings unforeseen dangers and emotional triggers. A lot of accidents and illness occur during and in the aftermath of holidays, according to Dr. Samantha La Qua, a family medicine physician affiliated with HCA Florida St. Lucie Hospital.

“We notice that heart attacks occur later in the day during the holidays because people want to spend every minute they can with their family and they will often ignore the warning signs,” Dr. La Qua said. “Chest pain is often mistaken for indigestion, so someone may wait until after the family meal to address it. Or they dismiss the pain because they don’t want to disrupt the family gathering.

“That could be a fatal mistake. If you are experiencing chest pain, don’t wait. Go to the emergency room or urgent care and get it checked out.”

When taking down Christmas lights and decorations, be just as careful on the ladder as when you were putting them up. You might be exhausted from the excitement of the past few weeks and in a hurry to put everything behind you and that’s when a fall is most likely to occur, possibly resulting in an injury.

When putting Christmas ornaments away, don’t place them on a couch or lay them on the floor where a child can reach them if children are around.

Besides the danger of broken glass and cuts, “kids are curious and they will put anything they can reach into their mouths,” cautioned Dr. La Qua. “We see a lot of instances of choking this time of year, not only from decorations but from small parts of the new toys they received for Christmas.”

The risk of infections rises at the holidays, too.

“The cooler weather that comes with Christmas brings with it a surge in respiratory viruses that are easily transmitted during family gatherings,” Dr. La Qua said. “We are seeing an increase in COVID, the flu and RSV in children this year, due in part to less masking, which makes it easier to transmit the airborne viruses.

“Your best defense [against viral grinches] is to make sure you are up to date with your flu and COVID vaccines. They are safe for everyone over the age of 6 months and pregnant women as well. If there are at-risk guests at the gathering, wearing masks couldn’t hurt.”

Another tip: “Limit what you are share,” Dr. La Qua advised. “If you are planning a big holiday meal, make it a plated dinner verses a buffet, or have one person wearing gloves serving the food instead of passing the platters around the table. Place individually wrapped candies in the candy bowl and refrain from sharing vegetable and chip dips. A safer way to present snacks is in individual cups. And, of course, monitor your intake of alcohol and always have a designated driver.”

The holidays often trigger emotional upset and turmoil, too, especially in gatherings awash in alcohol. Old quarrels can reignite and misunderstandings occur.

Others find themselves prey to loneliness and regret. Christmas can be a sad and difficult time for those who have lost loved ones or are feeling alone and isolated.

It’s important to stay in contact with friends and reach out to those you love. Place a phone call and talk rather than texting to make a stronger personal connection. Make sure to get out of the house and breathe fresh air. Look forward and not backward and think about one thing you’d like to have happen in the upcoming new year.

After the festivities, people may succumb to post-holiday blues – which can actually be a sign of healthy psychological functioning because the down mood reflects the emotional cost of enjoying several weeks of fun.

Most people have high levels of activity in the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with a lot of activity during the preparations, socializing, travel and family visits. Then, suddenly it’s over.

Others who are less active may continue to feel lonely and left out.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says post-holiday blues are associated with unrealistic expectations or memories connected to the holiday season. In a 2015 survey, a whopping 64 percent of people reported experiencing post-holiday blues.

If the blues persist, pay attention to your moods, try to be compassionate toward yourself, and reach out for help if need be.

“There is no shame in feeling depressed,” said Dr. La Qua. “Most depression can be managed by your primary care provider, but if it gets to a point where progress isn’t being made, then you may be referred to a mental health professional. There are stabilizing medications that can help control the mood swings. Taking charge of your mood is the fastest way to get out of the post-holiday blues and get a kick start on a truly happy new year.”

Dr. Samantha La Qua is a board-certified family medicine physician with additional training in obstetrics. She received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University, where she studied human biology health and society. She earned her medical degree from SUNY Upstate Medical University before going on to complete her residency at Halifax Health Family Medicine Residency in Daytona Beach. Dr. La Qua completed her Obstetrical Fellowship at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Her office is located at HCA Florida St. Lucie Specialists, 1700 SE Hillmoor Dr. Suite 200, Port St. Lucie, 772-398-7936.

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