Did you know that chronic stress has been found to be as dangerous as smoking 5 cigarettes a day? People who are anxious and overwhelmed are almost 30% more likely to suffer a heart attack. Furthermore as people get older, the effect of stress compounds over time created a stronger link between stress and heart health.
What Does Stress Do to the Heart and Body?
Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is what causes a “fight or flight” response, resulting in high blood pressure, a faster heart rate, and slowing down of digestion. It can also contribute to weight gain, complicate existing illnesses such as diabetes, and lead to anxiety and depression. These physical reactions all increase your cardiovascular disease risk.
Both high blood pressure and high cholesterol are considered to be major risk factors for heart attacks. High cholesterol contributes to the narrowing of blood vessels, making it harder for blood cells to move throughout the body while high blood pressure can cause the blood vessels to harden and stiffen, making them more susceptible to blockage. It is believed that high blood pressure, in particular, is responsible for 50% of heart attacks and strokes.
Managing Stress for Heart Health
The most obvious way to deal with stress is to avoid situations that cause the stress in the first place. Yoga and meditation can reduce stress by decreasing inflammation in the body with as little as 12 minutes of practice a day for 8 weeks. How you feel and perceive stress is important for heart health, so anything you can do to reduce stress may improve heart health in the future. Taking good care of yourself is also vital to curbing stress -- be sure to get plenty of rest and regular exercise. Eat well, don't smoke, and limit your alcohol consumption. If you can’t avoid stress, here are some approaches that may help you minimize the effects:
· Find a hobby
· Take a walk, listen to music, or read a book
· Eat a healthy diet
· Talk to friends, family, and others who are supportive
· Breathe slowly and deeply to help stop the flight-or-fight stress response
· Escape mentally by creating a calm peaceful image in your mind
· Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking recreational drugs
· Talk to your doctor about ways to manage stress
· Take time out – walk away if you have to, in order to take a few minutes to regroup
· Distract yourself – sometimes the simple act of enjoying a beautiful scene, watching children play in a park, or smelling a flower can help you put things in perspective and lighten your mood
· Count to 10 – sounds basic, but counting gives you a chance to rethink the situation