Heart Doctors: 80% of Americans Say This Is Their Biggest Holiday Regret

Updated: Dec. 20, 2023

New data offers inspiration (and permission) not to let the shift in routine take you off course from what really matters this time of year.

Have the gifts shipped? Are they wrapped yet? Have we chosen cheeses and sides and desserts that will delight the crowd? There’s so much to manage this time of year that—joy? What joy? Oh, right: the holidays are supposed to be fun.

But new research shows that for many, they’re not. If the fact that Christmas is peak season for heart attacks doesn’t encourage you to think about your priorities right now, hopefully a new report will: According to the results of a survey published by the American Heart Association (AHA), a significant majority of Americans report that “during the holidays, they are so focused on creating special moments for others they overlook their own needs.”

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To promote its “Healthy for Good” initiative, which emphasizes the advantages of a healthy diet, exercise, and other wellness practices, the AHA partnered with Wakefield Research to conduct a survey during the holiday season of 2023. Involving 1,000 participants, the survey found that 63% of respondents rated the holiday season as more stressful than even tax time. Plus, the data demonstrate that a significant majority of individuals have serious regrets once the season comes to a close.

The primary reason for this holiday stress appeared to be that a considerable 79% of individuals did not prioritize their own health during this period. Approximately 69% admitted that their eating habits suffered, 64% found it challenging to allocate time for exercise, and a majority of 56% reported experiencing a reduction in the quality and quantity of their sleep.

Additionally, these holiday-induced stresses spilled over into the new year, with over half of the participants struggling to recover from the holiday season. Mothers, in particular, reported needing at least a month to catch up. No wonder we’re overwhelmed.

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Many also express regret they feel once the holiday season was over: An astonishing 79% admitted that they had tried so hard to make the holidays special for others that they had neglected their own needs. Furthermore, 71% lamented not taking the time to fully enjoy the season with friends and family. If you find yourself in any of these categories, consider this a wake-up call to manage your health during the holidays and grant yourself the freedom to enjoy them as well!

This neglect isn’t just a downer: It can be very dangerous, too, says Dr. Glenn N. Levine, M.D., FAHA, and past committee chair for the American Heart Association: “Chronic stress can negatively impact both your long-term mental and physical health in many ways if left unmanaged,” Dr. Levine said. “The holidays are an easy time to justify putting off healthy habits, but it’s important to manage chronic stress and other risk factors to stay healthy during the holiday season and into the New Year.” 

The AHA wants us to go to extra care around the holidays—a few techniques to keep your body and spirits tuned-up as the year winds down:

  • ask Grandma to watch the kids for half an hour while you get out for some exercise
  • grab healthy groceries to balance out the sweets, decadent sides, and baked Brie. A healthy pot of soup or a big salad with tuna, chicken or beans is a great way to fill up hours ahead of a party!
  • get adequate sleep—recent research found that eating a certain kind of fruit significantly helped sleep 
  • spend quality time with loved ones
  • practice short meditations
  • be mindful about alcohol consumption (that’s not to insist you should drink at all—but ask yourself whether you really want that next glass!)