“The mind has great influence over the body, and maladies often have their origin there.” – Moliere
Today’s HEALTHbeat newsletter from Harvard Medical School discusses the importance of reducing stress to your overall cardiovascular health. An abundance of research suggests that many psychological factors affect your heart health. Different types of stress can contribute to cardiovascular symptoms and outcome, especially heart attack risk.
Emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, or anger all play significant roles in the development of many forms of cardiac problems. The good news is that there are proactive steps that you can take to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease through specific stress reduction and self-care strategies.
Stress & Cardiovascular Disease
The HEALTHbeat newsletter discusses 4 major types of stress that contribute to cardiovascular disease:
- Women in stressful workplace environments have a 40% increased risk of heart disease
- “Job strain” – The combination of demand (amount, pace, & difficulty of work) and control (ability to be creative or make work-related decisions)
- Twofold higher risk of newly diagnosed heart disease among men who believed rewards at work were incompatible with their efforts
- According to a 2010 report in The American Journal of Cardiology, heart attacks have risen since the stock market crashed
- Rate of heart attacks increased steadily during a particularly bad time period for the stock market (Sept. ’08 – March ’09)
- Women who care for a disabled spouse for at least 9 hours / week are significantly more at risk for having a heart attack or dying from heart disease compared to women with no caregiving duties
- According to a study done with 2,700 people immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, people with high levels of stress immediately after the attacks were twice as likely to develop high blood pressure and three times as likely to develop heart problems during the following two years compared to people with low stress levels
- Earthquakes trigger stress-related heart problems for years afterward – sudden cardiac deaths rose dramatically after the 1994 earthquake in the Los Angeles area and hospitalization for heart attacks rose on the day of the 1995 earthquake near Kobe, Japan
- A long-term follow-up study of another major earthquake in Japan in 2004 indicated that death rates from heart attacks rose during the three years after the quake
Stress & Lifestyle Changes
Harvard Medical School’s HEALTHbeat newsletter suggests the following lifestyle changes that can help minimize your stress level:
(1) Get enough restorative sleep
It is important to learn about sleep hygiene in order to create a routine and environment that are most conducive to restful sleep. Mindfulness can be effectively applied to your sleep routine as well, to let go of stress, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts. Insufficient levels of sleep or inadequate/restless sleep can negatively affect your mood, energy levels, mental alertness, and physical well-being.
It is common knowledge that physical exercise has a wide variety of benefits to your physical and psychological health. Different people benefit from different forms of exercise, so it is important to consult with a medical professional about any physical limitations that you may have. Some people find vigorous cardiovascular exercise to be a wonderful stress-reliever, while others find yoga to be incredibly balancing and beneficial to overall well-being.
(3) Relaxation techniques
(4) Time-management skills
Learning how to integrate time-management skills into your life can help you feel more organized, which can decrease levels of stress and anxiety. When things are cluttered, scattered, and messy, it is easy to feel out of control, tense, and stressed. Organization and time-management provide you with the freedom to direct your focus elsewhere.
(5) Confront stressful situations head-on
The more that we engage in experiential avoidance and push away or deny thoughts, feelings, or situations that are uncomfortable, the more damage they cause us. Rather than get ourselves stuck in the control and avoidance cycle, it is best to confront the stressful situation directly, with full mindful awareness. Mindfulness allows you to take in as much information as possible about the situation, which enables you to make the best decisions possible.
(6) Nurture yourself
It is crucial to take the time to engage in self-care activities to decrease stress and increase overall health and well-being. Fully engage with the present moment and listen to what your body and internal state are trying to tell you. Apply mindfulness to the present moment to recognize if you are feeling stressed, anxious or tired. When you become more tuned in to your experience, you will be better able to respond and give yourself the care that you truly need.
We cannot escape the fact that stress comes along with life. We cannot control all of the events that happen in life… such as, the illness of a loved one, a sudden job loss, a sharp decline in the stock market, or natural disasters. What we can control is the way that we take care of our physical and psychological health. We also have control over how we choose to respond to stressful events.
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