We live in a world where stress is commonplace. What people may not realize is how damaging too much stress can be on the body. It can adversely affect anyone, particularly individuals suffering from heart disease, but understanding the root of your stress and how to manage it can help impact your heart health and ultimately your everyday activities for the better.
What Is Stress?
Stress has several general definitions:
● A real or imagined threat, and the body’s response to it
● A state of mental or emotional strain caused by adverse circumstances
● A nonspecific response of the body to a demand, change or stimulus (pain or fear, for example) that causes an imbalance in an organism’s equilibrium
Everyone feels stress at some point in their lives. Some feel it before important assignments or major events; others feel it after a pregnancy or during life-changing events. The reality is, stress is unavoidable; it is how we deal with it that determines our ultimate health and stability.
Types of Stress
The word “stress” typically has a socially negative connotation. However, not all stress is bad. Positive stress, or “eustress,” is important for people to have in their lives. It keeps them motivated and excited. This type of “good” stress includes overcoming challenges, going on a first date or riding a rollercoaster. It makes us feel alive and energized.
Negative stress, what we typically think of as stress, triggers responses in the body that are not motivated by excitement and joy. It can be categorized into three main types:
|Chronic Stress||Caused by a buildup of everyday pressure||Family, work, daily responsibilities, traffic frustration|
|Acute Stress||Caused by an immediate, negative lifestyle change||Illness, divorce, job loss|
|Traumatic Stress||Caused by circumstances that may result in serious injury, danger or death||Natural disaster, abuse, war, major accident|
Stress on the Heart
Our bodies are not designed to deal with this type of stress for long periods of time. Doing so can have damaging impacts on our physical and emotional well-being. Studies show that stress takes a toll on major parts of the body, especially the heart. Much more research is needed to figure out for certain how stress directly impacts heart disease; however, indirect suggestions note that stress strongly contributes to habits and conditions that may heighten the risk of heart attack. Examples include:
● Elevated cholesterol
● High blood pressure
● Overeating/binge eating
● Physical inactivity
● Alcohol consumption
These unhealthy habits are dangerous pathways to a diseased heart and cardiovascular issues, and they should be addressed in order to minimize risks for long-term damage.
One way you can work toward decreasing the amount of stress in your daily life is to participate in one of the classes offered at LifeStyle Medical Centers. These classes will provide you with tips, tricks and “life hacks” to help you identify and proactively handle your personal stress triggers.
Making other changes in your daily habits can help eliminate unnecessary stress and help regulate heart function at the same time:
- Stay positive. Regularly participate in activities that you enjoy, and try to have an optimistic outlook on circumstances in your life.
- Laugh! Recent research shows that laughter decreases stress levels and can reduce inflammation in the coronary arteries.
- Exercise. Staying physically active helps reduce heart stress by lowering blood pressure and strengthening the heart muscle.
- Meditate. Mindfulness meditation has been proven to increase self-awareness, improve self-esteem and reduce everyday stress.
- Unplug. Let go of information and technology overload for a few minutes each day. Take some time to disconnect from social media, email, news and other things that may be contributing to increased stress in your life.