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Heart Healthy Lifestyle Changes that Make a Difference: Managing Stress

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Heart Disease related image Photo: Getty Images

Stress--we’ve all got it. Not only is stress our middle name but it’s become an integral part of the American way of life. For many of us, every day is like a Monday. All those blue Mondays add up and take a toll on our attitudes, and our heart health.

Stress comes in many flavors. Whether it’s a missed flight, back-to-back meetings, a two-hour traffic jam, or the school calling to say your child is sick just before you give the presentation of your career, it all adds up to the same thing--a stress reaction that may leave you reeling. When stress hits, the body's natural defense system kicks in and releases adrenaline and cortisol (the major stress hormone). Adrenaline causes your energy levels to soar, heart rate to increase, and blood pressure to rise to the top of the charts. At the same time that adrenaline is causing your system to run wild, cortisol is raising blood glucose sugar levels. All this leaves you with a stress response system run amok.

Many areas of our health are impacted by our reaction to stress--sleep, digestion, depression, obesity, and our heart health. Stress is linked to the development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Some studies indicate that marital and work-related stress along with other psychosocial factors like low income, limited social support, depression, anxiety, or anger, make up approximately 30 percent of the risk for heart attack. Stress is particularly devastating to a woman’s heart health. High stress jobs alone increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease by 40 percent and heart attack by 88 percent.

With the results of stress being so devastating to heart health, it’s important to learn to manage stress and reduce its negative impacts. Some great stress relieving techniques include:

• improving your diet and incorporating regular exercise into your daily regime. Tai Chi and yoga are excellent for improving stress levels
• practicing relaxation techniques, like meditation
• cultivating healthy friendships. Reach out to your support system when overwhelmed by stress - it reduces your stress levels
• practicing laughter. It really is the best medicine! Make humor a lasting part of your lifestyle
• professional counseling

Don’t overlook other excellent stress relievers such as journaling or treating yourself to a massage, pedicure, or afternoon at a spa. Allow yourself the time to engage in your favorite hobby whether it's music, art, cooking, gardening, or dancing to African drum music. Regularly practice positive thinking. Strive for a better work-life balance--prioritize the demands made on your time and learn to say “no.”

While it’s impossible to eliminate all the stress in our lives, it is possible to manage and reduce your stress. By reducing your stress levels, you’ll lower your blood pressure, improve blood flow, improve concentration, reduce tension, and lessen chronic pain. You’ll also enjoy the benefit of a more improved, stress-free life while reducing your risk of developing heart disease or suffering a heart attack.

Shari Roan, Job stress hikes risk of heart disease for women, Los Angeles Times, 14 Nov 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/14/news/la-heb-job-stress-20101114

Steven Reinberg, Stress-Reduction Therapy May Help Heart Disease Patients,
Bloomberg Business Week, 24 Jan 2011, http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/649191.html

JAMA and Archives Journals (2011, January 24). Stress management program helps prevent heart events in patients with heart disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2011/01/110124162623.htm

Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors, The Mayo Clinic, 12 Jan 2011, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/HB00040

Stress: Constant stress puts your health at risk, The Mayo Clinic, 11 Sept 2010, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/SR00001

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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