Winning Strategies

For Dealing With Game-Day Stress

Watching the big game and other sporting events can cause game-day stress. Let’s look at how stress affects the body and how it should be managed. We want your heart to be the real winner this year!

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

We all experience stressful moments; however, leaving that stress unchecked can create health issues or cause existing medical problems to worsen and be more difficult to treat. Dr. Douglas Friedman, cardiologist with WakeMed Heart & Vascular, says that it’s important to know the difference between emotional and physical stress, and how they affect the body. Some stress is good, but keep the bad in check.

“Physical stress, like routine exercise, is good for the body and is overall recommended with your doctor’s guidance. However, short bursts of intense exercise or strenuous activity can increase the risk of an in-the-moment cardiac event, particularly for those who don’t exercise regularly. A classic example is shoveling snow.

Emotional stress is something we experience on a psychological level, but it can also cause physical changes in our body,” explains Dr. Friedman. “Stressors will lead to an increase in ‘stress hormones’ and result in biochemical changes that can impact our long-term heart health.”

In extreme cases, an emotional stressor can lead to a life-threatening heart condition known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome.

“Clinically, it’s identical to a massive heart attack.” says Dr. Friedman. “Most commonly, it occurs after a tragedy, although there are cases of broken heart syndrome after more ‘ordinary’ occurrences – for example, when one’s beloved sports team loses.”

Level the Playing Field

Stress becomes a problem when it interferes with your life, causing disturbances in sleep, attention span, and behavior. Physically, stress can trigger muscle tension, headache, respiratory symptoms, and illnesses. “I see the effects of stress all the time in our cardiology practice,” says Dr. Friedman. “Many experience palpitations or the sensation that their heart is beating hard or irregularly, and some people even develop chest pains.”

Make Heart Healthy Game Day Snacks

Unhealthy food can put stress on the heart and other organs. Healthful eating, on the other hand, can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. It can also boost a person’s mood and provide more energy. As you’re prepping your game day treats, swap out greasy, fried, salty, and sugary snacks for healthier choices.

– Change Out the Dressing: Swap ranch dip for a hummus dip to go with your veggies. Hummus is packed with fiber to keep you full and contains heart-healthy ingredients, such as chickpeas, to help reduce “bad” cholesterol (LDL).

– Sweet Snack Swaps: Cookies, brownies, and other treats are bound to make their way into the typical snack lineup for game day, but let’s think healthier. Grapes, berries, and cubed watermelon are sweet and nutritious snacks to nibble on. Fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth while providing vitamins and fiber to keep you feeling satisfied and hydrated. If you don’t have time to cube and prepare fruit, buy containers of pre-cut fruits at the market. Put them on skewers, drizzle with dark chocolate, or make fruit salad cups.

– BBQ Wings Done Right: Sure, we all love the fried wings that are served on game day, but let’s try something different this year. For a heart-healthy alternative, opt for chicken, pork, or lean beef skewers. Make your own and skip the sauce. Try some broiled chicken skewers or sweet spiced pork kebabs. Enjoy your skewers with crunchy, fiber-rich celery or your favorite vegetable to help keep you feeling full and satisfied through halftime.

– Take a Time-Out on High Calorie, Sugary Drinks: Sodas, beer, wine, and other high-calorie sugary drinks are the go-to during the big game. Instead, keep your alcohol intake moderate and try to choose drinks with fewer calories, like flavored bubbly water. Make homemade flavored waters using fresh fruit to limit your caloric intake through beverages and curb your sweet cravings.

Be Your Best Coach

Feeling more stressed at times other than game day? To help you manage, here are a few tips:

– Identify the stressor and try to minimize its impact.
– Get regular exercise. Even short walks can reduce stress.
– Take a personal time out. Relax, meditate, pursue a hobby, and get enough sleep.
– Stay in touch with family and friends. They can support you and help distract you from stressors.
– Feeling anxious or stressed? Talk about it with a healthcare professional.

For more health wellness tips and delicious and healthy recipes, visit the WakeMed Voices blog (where you can also subscribe) at The WakeMed Voices blog provides an outlet for their many experts to share information on topics important to the health of patients and the community.