Heightened stress during the holidays can lead to heart problems — especially for women.

Women often find themselves under duress this time of year as they struggle to complete tasks such as cooking, hosting family gatherings and buying gifts.

"Women are likely under more stress than men overall during the holiday time," said Dr. Anil Poulose, a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute-Abbott Northwestern Hospital. "Most of the preparations, culturally, fall upon the women."

That added pressure can contribute to a phenomenon known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. The condition, which resembles a small heart attack, is most common in women in their late 50s to 70s.

It happens when women endure high stress for a short period. It's not just seasonal. It also can be coupled with a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one or losing a job, Poulose explained.

He offered these tips for relieving stress:

• Set reasonable expectations and avoid putting pressure on yourself to create perfect holiday memories.

• Don't do it all yourself. Divide tasks among more people.

• Take time to exercise, meditate or do other activities to help reduce stress.

• Don't overindulge on holiday treats and alcohol.

• If you or someone you know feels chest pains, shortness of breath or otherwise feels ill, seek medical attention right away instead of waiting until after the holidays.

Booze and brains don't mix

Something else to mull over during your holiday weekend celebrations: New technology reveals how excessive drinking causes lasting damage to your brain.

Studies using brain scans show chronic heavy drinking causes shrinking of the brain's frontal cortex — the home of higher-order thinking skills. Brain scans also reveal reduced white matter, which controls inhibitions, according to the National Institue of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The upshot: The longer and more a person drinks, the worse his or her ability to make judgments and control impulses.

The institute notes that some of the damage can be reversed with sobriety, but other changes appear to be permanent.

How much is too much alcohol? The risk of developing serious health issues related to drinking is low for men who consume no more than 14 drinks a week or four on a single day, the institute says. For women, the danger is low if you have no more than seven drinks a week or three on a given day.