Stress plays a major role in our heart health. In fact, more than exercise or even healthy eating, stress impacts our heart health in a myriad of ways. Learning to understand the kinds of stress, the possible impact it has on your heart and overall health, as well as ways to manage stress, will go a long way in keeping your heart, and you, as healthy as possible.
Life is full of stress and that's not such a bad thing. In fact, that jittery excitement we get when going for a job interview or that scared but powerful feeling when we narrowly avoid getting into a car accident, is actually good for us.
Sudden, acute stress causes our hearts to beat faster, our senses to sharpen and readies our bodies for action. It causes our body to release a burst of hormones known as the flight or fight response that help us perform physical and mental tasks more efficiently. For that moment we all become the Six Million Dollar Man: better…stronger…faster. This type of stress can actually improve heart function.
The problem occurs when we are exposed to constant, chronic stress. Stress that lingers for weeks, months or longer, such as family tension, job pressures and the like. This type of stress results in elevated hormone levels and can then result in high blood pressure, depression and ultimately heart disease.
So how do you know if you’re overstressed? The answer is, if you have to ask, you’re not. But knowing you are overstressed and understanding the toll the stress is taking on your body is completely different. Do any of these sound familiar? Do too many of them? Then it’s time to take action!
Managing your stress is a lot like managing your weight. It takes constant and
consistent effort. Some tips for keeping your stress levels in check include:
Realize that you can't do everything and that sometimes you just have to say no. And that's ok. You don't have to refuse everything, just be selective about the tasks you take on. Set yourself up for success, not failure (and more stress).
Some projects are just too overwhelming to consider whole. So instead, prioritize and break it down into smaller, more doable tasks. Each time you accomplish a task, acknowledge your success before you move on to tackle the next.
Sure, it's often easier said than done. Being able to truly relax, for a truly overstressed person can be quite daunting. Meditation and breathing exercises may work for some people. Perhaps taking a hot bath or going for a long walk are what relaxes you. Experiment to see what works for you and then make a concerted effort to include these activities into your life.
Volunteering and doing for others is a great way to get your mind off your own problems. It allows you to temporarily forget about your stresses and can even promote a sense of gratitude so that the things that were stressing you out may seem less important.
When we are stressed out, our sleep is often affected. Our mind is racing and the prospect of getting a good, restful night's sleep seems out of reach. But this is when we need adequate sleep most. Sleep is our body's way of regrouping and recharging. Being stressed and tired can be a lethal combination.
The idea of fitting in exercise may totally stress you out, especially if you already feel overwhelmed. But just like getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise is crucial to your ability to fight stress.
And when all else fails...just breathe.
Author: Sue Ridgeway