Articles about stress and heart disease abound since information in the media and from physicians has been clear that these two situations are linked. Stress kills. Stress, however, is normal part of everyday life. The stress that kills is the unmanaged, out of control stress that leads to emotional, psychological and physical problems.
Common illnesses that can be attributed to stress are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and immune mediated illnesses such as lupus, arthritis and gastrointestinal disorders. However, researchers are continuing to work to conclusively pinpoint exactly how stress increases the risk of heart disease. At this time they know only that it does. Researchers aren’t sure if stress is the risk factor or if it is the high levels of stress that make other risk factors even worse.
But, it doesn’t matter which came first, the chicken or the egg. The real concern is that stress has been conclusively linked to heart disease. The conclusion is that is you want to prevent heart disease or if you want to improve your current condition then you must reduce the level of stress that your body experiences.
People respond in different ways to situations. One person may let the situation ‘roll off their back’ while another will obsess over the situation and mull it over for hours. Some people react in ways that make a bad situation even worse by displaying anger, anxiety or moodiness. Others seem to face life with ease and grace.
Things that make you feel stress are also different from person to person. Both major and minor life changes are considered risk factors. Most importantly you should try to identify the stressors in your life, or the things that make you feel tension, anger, anxiety, and frustration.
There are some common stressors that affect people at all stages of life. They can include illness that is personal or a close family member, death of a friend or loved one (including a pet), personal relational problems or work overload. Included in this list are also situational conditions such as crowds and closed in spaces. People who are starting a new job, getting married, unemployed, retiring, or pregnant are also facing life changes that are commonly considered stressful even though some are positive changes.
Your body gives you warning signals when you are experiencing enough stress to cause physical or emotional problems. The warning signs are pretty straight forward. However, there may be times when you are under chronic stress that your body accommodates to. Normally accommodation is good but under these circumstances when you accommodate to stress you won’t notice the warning signs as well, even though the stress continues to cause problems.
These warning signs of stress include physical signs like sweaty palms, consistent tiredness, ringing ears, difficulty sleeping, racing hear or weight loss/gain. Mental signs of increased stress in your life may include constantly worrying, unable to concentrate, poor memory, forgetfulness and loss of sense of humor. When people are under stress they also find they get angry more easily, become anxious, cry, feel powerless or revert to negative thinking.
There are two things you must do. You must identify the stressors in your life and then find ways to cope with them. There are different techniques that you might use to manage stress. Some techniques that you can use to prepare your body to cope with added stress is to drink enough water and eat a balanced diet. We really are what we eat and without enough of the right food and water our bodies don’t cope well with stress, either physical or emotional. Another coping mechanism is to change lifestyle habits that contribute to added stress such as smoking, alcohol, and recreational drugs.
Psychologist have found that exercise will increase the amount of endorphins your body produces which help you to cope with stress. Be sure the exercise is non-competitive so it doesn’t add to your stress level, is consistent and raises your heart rate for about 30 minutes each day.
Try to reduce the cause of your stresses. There are some that can’t be avoided, such as pregnancy, death, illness or retirement. There are other causes of stress that can be reduced such as commitments, relational problems or work overload. Saying ‘no’ to a new commitment may be difficult but when weighed against your health you may be able to say the word.
It’s important when you are deciding what stays and what goes in your life that you have realistic expectations of your abilities. You can’t be 100% successful in everything you do and the sooner you realize that fact the sooner your stress will be reduced.
Most importantly you should try to keep a positive attitude and good self-esteem. These are your best defenses against stress because you’ll see your stressor as a challenge instead of a problem. One trick is to look the stressor square in the face, so to speak, and acknowledge how much importance it holds in your life. Next, ask yourself if this same thing will be important to you in 5 years or if it would have been 5 years ago. Chances are, it wouldn’t have been and won’t be in 5 years. Remember that when you are coping with the situation and trying to remain calm.
World Heart Federation: Stress
Nature Reviews Cardiology: Stress and Cardiovascular Disease
The American Institute of Stress: Stress and Heart disease
Harvard Heatlh Publications: Stress and Heart Disease
Harvard Health Publications: Women Work Stress and Heart Disease
American Psychological Association: Chronic Stress and Cardiovascular Disease
Columbia University: Perceived Stress May Predict Future Coronary Heart Disease Risk