Everyone experiences stress. It is the amount of stress you experience and how you react to the stress that may lead to a variety of health issues. Stress, especially chronic stress, can adversely affect your heart depending on how your body responds to it. During stressful situations, your body reacts by zapping your heart with hormones, such as cortisol, that cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. By doing so, the body has prepared and enabled itself to either fight or flee the stressor. This was important for our ancestors when they were faced with protecting themselves from wild animals or other dangerous situations. Today, however most stressors do not require a physical response. This physiological reaction becomes detrimental to our health when stress becomes chronic. This is harmful because the heart is not given a chance to calm down after a stressful event. Constant or chronic stress means the heart is repeatedly bombarded by those hormones which results in the heart running in ‘high gear’ for a prolonged period of time; eventually causing a weakening of the cardiovascular system and artery walls from the increased blood flow and pressure.
Some people may choose to drink or smoke more than usual to deal with stress, which only makes matters worse. Avoid masking your stress with harmful substances and find healthy ways to cope with the stress in your life. Although medications may help in some cases, it is better to learn how to manage your stress through relaxation and other stress management techniques. The following are healthy habits that may help offset stress.
Talk with family and friends – a daily dose of friendship is great medicine. Call, write, or visit friends and family to share your feelings.
Engage in daily physical activity – moderate physical activity helps people manage stress and the health benefits last even after your workout is done.
Focus on the things you are able to change – don’t stress over the things you have no control over, instead embrace the things you have the ability to change.
Slow down – try to “pace” instead of “race.” Plan ahead and allow enough time to get the most important things done without having to rush.
Get enough sleep – adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Caffeine stays in your system for at least six hours so skip the afternoon coffee or soda to get a better night’s rest.
Do things you find pleasure in – when stress makes you feel bad, do something that makes you feel good. Doing things you enjoy is a natural way to fight off stress.
Practice relaxation – to relieve stress, relaxation should calm the tension in your mind and body. Some good forms of relaxation include yoga, tai-chi, meditation, and deep breathing which all have long term health benefits.
Eat right – don’t cave into the comfort foods, eat a healthful diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Nutrition can influence stress levels and effect heart health.
Listen to music – playing calm music (classical, or ocean/nature sounds) has a positive effect on the brain and body, can lower blood pressure, and reduce hormones linked to stress.
Laugh – laughter releases endorphins that improve mood and decrease levels of stress-causing hormones.
Stress is just one of many factors that may be linked to heart disease. Visit the American Heart Association’s website www.heart.org and take the Go Red Heart CheckUp to learn more about your heart health. For more information on heart health, contact the Langlade County Health Department at 715-627-6250.