The ill effects of stress are unending. You have undoubtedly read about all the results of being over stressed, including pain of any kind, digestive disorders, sleep disorders, depression, obesity (and the inability to properly lose weight), autoimmune diseases and skin conditions such as eczema. But perhaps the most frightening result of all is the direct correlation between being over stressed and heart disease.
We generally think about the risk factors of heart disease as being overweight, leading a sedentary life, having diabetes, high blood pressure and an association with high cholesterol. But being under stress also plays a large role in the increased risk of heart disease or having a sudden heart attack. A growing body of evidence suggests that psychological factors are – literally – heartfelt, and can contribute to cardiac risk.
Stress from challenging situations and events plays a significant role in cardiovascular symptoms and outcome, particularly heart attack risk. Depression, anxiety, anger, hostility and social isolation also affect cardiovascular health. Each of these factors heightens your chances of developing heart problems. But emotional issues are often intertwined; people who have one commonly have another.
Experts at Harvard University have made the following suggestions to manage your stress:
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sound sleep can affect your mood, mental alertness, energy level and physical health.
- Exercise. Physical activity alleviates stress and reduces your risk of becoming depressed – and it is good for your all-around health.
- Learn relaxation techniques. Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises and yoga or stretching are mainstays of stress relief. You can learn about these techniques from classes, books or videos.
- Learn time-management skills. These skills can help you juggle work and family demands.
- Confront stressful situations head-on. Don’t let stressful situations fester. Hold family problem-solving sessions and use negotiation skills at work.
- Nurture yourself. Treat yourself to a massage. Truly savor an experience: eat slowly, focusing on each bite of that orange, or soak up the warm rays of the sun or the scent of blooming flowers during a walk outdoors. Take a nap. Enjoy the sounds of music you find calming.
Exercise is not only good for your heart physiologically; as mentioned above, it also goes a long way in relieving stress. The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Including stress management and reduction in your life will help you keep heart healthy and “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”