How often do you run into a neighbor or friend and your conversation turns to how stressed you are? It seems everyone is “too busy” these days and under an intense amount of stress.
Stress is the result of all kinds of issues—expensive car repairs, a last-minute need for baked goods for tomorrow’s fundraiser or pushed up deadlines at work. There is also the kind of stress that is more traumatic such as being diagnosed with a serious disease or losing a loved one.
Every person reacts to stress differently.
Your body’s reaction to stress is called the fight or flight response, a term coined by Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon. When faced with a stressful situation, your body experiences an instinctual chemical flood of cortisol and adrenaline (the fight response). However, what happens if you experience the fight response when someone unexpectedly pulls out in front of you on the road? Nothing, but now you are stressed (and annoyed), and your body has cortisol and adrenaline stored up without a release.
Is stress hurting your heart?
There are different types of stress. Acute stress is a sudden onset caused by a traumatic event, such as the death of a child. Chronic stress builds and exists throughout our daily lives.
Acute stress can lead to broken heart syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition where people may have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath. These symptoms can easily cause people to think they are having a heart attack. It is a good idea to call a doctor and seek medical treatment if you are experiencing these symptoms, which usually stop after a few days or weeks.
The link between chronic stress and heart health isn’t well defined. However chronic stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors that increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease. These behaviors include overeating comfort foods, which tend to be high-fat, high-cholesterol and damaging to arteries; lack of physical activity; smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), when stress is constant and you cannot get to a normal, relaxed state of mind, your body remains in a state of alertness (fight response).
Stop stressing out.
When you feel stressed, pay attention to these reactions or triggers:
• Do you seek out comfort food, alcohol or cigarettes to calm down?
• Do you rush around but feel like you do not get much done?
• Are you sleeping too little, too much or both?
If you engage in even one of these behaviors, you are probably not effectively addressing your stress.
Harvard Health Publishing recommends these five ways to better manage your stress:
1. Stay positive. Simply laughing more can lower levels of stress hormones, reducing inflammation in the arteries and increasing “good” cholesterol. A 2013 AHA study showed people living with heart disease and have positive attitudes are more likely to exercise, live longer and have better health outcomes.
2. Meditate. The Journal of the American Heart Association published a statement in 2017 that found meditation plays a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. Meditation should focus on slow movements, controlled breathing and mental focus. Yoga, swimming and practicing active breathing are all example of stress-reducing meditation.
3. Exercise. Physical activity that raises your heart rate and allows your body to release mood-elevating chemicals called endorphins decreases stress. Exercise also eases strain on your heart by lowering blood pressure, strengthening your heart muscle and helping you maintain a healthy weight.
4. Unplug. Technology and screens are a constant in our lives. From cellular phones to tablets and smart watches to televisions, it is difficult to escape the pull of our devices. Try to unplug for 10 to 15 minutes a day to lower your stress levels.
5. Find what works for you to relax. Take up a new hobby, soak in the hot springs, go on a walk, put on your favorite record—the options are endless, as long as you find something to focus your brain and take a break from the demands of the world around you.
Love your heart.
“Stress can decrease your lifespan by three to five years, and chronic stress can accelerate your aging by 10 to 15 years,” says Amit Sood, MD, research and practice director of the Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program.
Be an advocate for your heart and take steps towards decreasing your stress levels. If you think your stress is too much to handle on your own, and if you are at a high risk for heart disease, talk with your primary care provider or look into a counseling session form a licensed psychologist.
About Mountain-Pacific Quality Health—Mountain-Pacific holds federal, state and commercial contracts to oversee the quality of care in the communities it serves. Mountain-Pacific works in Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Territories to help improve the delivery of health care and the systems that provide it with the goal to increase access to high quality health care that is affordable, safe and of value to patients.
Developed by Mountain-Pacific Quality Health, the Medicare Quality Innovation Network-Quality Improvement Organization (QIN-QIO) for Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Territories of Guam and American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, under contract with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Contents presented do not necessarily reflect CMS policy. 12SOW-MPQHF-MT-CC-20-04
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