When considering overall health, recognizing how stress affects the body is important. What is stressful to one person may not be to another. Stress can come from happy events (a new marriage, job promotion, new home) as well as unhappy events (illness, overwork, family problems).While the American Heart Association has not found a direct link between stress and heart disease, stress can negatively affect your health and cause issues which affect your heart.
Stress is the body’s response to change.
When something in your environment changes (new home, family problems, ect) your body releases adrenaline which causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the body’s way of protecting itself. Stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations.
Chronic stress is bad for you.
The problem occurs when when stress is constant (chronic). Chronic stress is when the body never gets an opportunity to calm down. It remains in high gear for days, weeks, even months. Chronic stress can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. It suppresses the immune system. It makes you feel anxious, tense or depressed. It causes random aches and pains to appear out of nowhere. Stress can make you gain weight and lose sleep. It even causes blood to clot differently which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Chronic stress can also lead to bad habits such as smoking, physical inactivity, over eating, and alcohol. People may turn to these things to “manage” chronic stress if they don’t have healthy stress management techniques. All of these have been shown to adversely affect heart health.
You don’t have to live with stress.
The good news is you don’t have to live with stress. You can learn to effectively mitigate its effects. Here are a few things the American Heart Association recommends if you struggle with stress:
1. Take a deep breath.
Carve out time for meditation, deep breathing, yoga or tai chi, crank up some tunes or go for a short walk. Whatever activity you find calming, find the time to do it every day for at least 15 minutes.
2. Give up your vices.
Overdoing it with alcohol or caffeine can put stress into overdrive, so try to cut back as much as possible. If you smoke, you already know it’s a bad habit. Drop it. We know quitting isn’t easy, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
3. Burn some steam.
Give your endorphins a boost with regular physical activity. Exercise relieves mental and physical tension, and anyone who has experienced runner’s high knows what we mean. Not to mention, physically active adults have a lower risk of depression and function better mentally. Try walking, swimming, biking or another form of cardio every day.
4. Consider stress management.
If you’re always in a rush, impatient, hostile or constantly stressed, stress management classes might be worth looking into. They’re usually held at community colleges, rehab programs or hospitals, and your healthcare professional can likely recommend one for you.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for Americans. If you suspect you may have high blood pressure or have difficulty controlling stress, we’d be happy to discuss your concerns. Give us a call at (662) 348-3342 to schedule an appointment.
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