Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Stress and Your Heart Health
It’s hard to escape it: stress is simply a fact of life. I ask all of my patients about stress, and it is a rare bird who tells me they have no stress at all. More often, my patients share their stories about stress in the workplace, stress from family crises or complicated relationships, stress from financial worries, and of course stress from health concerns. Some people have stress coming at them from all sides, with no end in sight.
How can we learn to cope with the pressure and keep our hearts and minds healthy and resilient?
Stress affects our heart health by triggering the “fight or flight” response, raising heart rate and blood pressure, and triggering an outpouring of stress-related chemicals including adrenaline and cortisol. In the short run, these reactions are not necessarily harmful, but when they play out relentlessly, they can create serious trouble.
Not all stress is bad. For instance, when we have a goal to achieve, and we know we can get there, a little stress can help nudge us along the way. If we are supported and empowered in our job or within our family, the stress can be very manageable.
It is the stress that is characterized by high demand (either a boss or a spouse), limited control over the situation, and lack of support that can be so harmful. If you find yourself in this position, it’s important to get a handle on the problem.
- The first step is to identify the source.
- Next, if you can, work to improve your circumstances. Perhaps you need to have a talk with your boss, seek counseling for your relationship, or remove yourself from the job or situation altogether.
None of these are simple, so it’s important to understand whether you are dealing with a temporary setback or a permanent condition that is not likely to change.
Sometimes, it is not so much the situation, but our response to it, that makes the stress so harmful. A healthy diet, regular exercise, seven to eight hours of good quality sleep, and a little “me time” (whether spent in meditation, prayer, or simply listening to music or reading a good book) can go a long way.
Nurture your friendships and your relationship with your spouse or partner, since people with strong social ties tend to be healthier than those who suffer their stress alone. Above all, if the stress is overwhelming, seek your doctor’s advice.
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