De-Stressing 101

Stress Avoidance a Key Factor For A Healthy Heart

By Mary Toothman

Many people are careful to wear seatbelts, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet. But many may be unaware of how harmful to our health it can be to carry around a lot of physical or emotional stress.

Unmanaged stress can increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, medical researchers are not sure exactly how stress increases the risk of heart disease and more research is still needed. However, it may be that stress itself is a risk factor, or high levels of stress may worsen other risk factors, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

If you are under stress, your blood pressure goes up, you may overeat, you may exercise less, and you may be more likely to smoke.

If stress itself is a risk factor for heart disease, it could be because chronic stress exposes our bodies to unhealthy, elevated levels of stress hormones — such as adrenaline and cortisol. 

Stress has also been linked in studies to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of heart attack.

An awareness of what triggers stress, and taking care to avoid those situations can strongly contribute to improved health, happiness, and well-being.

Tips on Avoiding Stress

Know what situations make you feel stressed. Plan on how to cope with them. Learn how to say “no” to things that you do not really want or need to do.

There are links between stress and type 2 diabetes. Feeling stressed out can change  your body chemistry in a way that makes you more likely to develop diabetes. It may cause you to act in unhealthy ways, as well.

When you experience stress, you may feel:

  • Angry
  • Annoyed
  • Anxious
  • Confused
  • Impatient
  • Sad
  • Worried

You may have:

  • An aching head, back or neck
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Tight muscles
  • Upset stomach

When you feel stressed, you may:

  • Drink too much alcohol
  • Forget things
  • Put off doing the things you need to do
  • Rush around without getting much done
  • Sleep too little, too much, or both.
  • Smoke
  • Take too much medicine
  • Work too much
  • Make unhealthy choices about eating or drinking
  • Let your fitness goals go.
  • Spend too much time watching TV or videos or using the computer

Healthy Ways to Reduce Stress

There is no certain way to prevent stress, but there are ways to make your life less stressful. 

  • Ask friends and family for help. 
  • Be tidy and keep things in order.
  • Get enough sleep. Try to sleep eight hours per night.
  • Have fun; set aside time to do something you enjoy. Go for a walk, read a book or watch a video.
  • Learn how to decline invitations things you don’t really want or need to do.
  • Know yourself. Know what situations make you feel stressed.
  • Make a to-do list. Put the most important things on top.
  • Remind yourself. Use notes, calendars, timers— whatever works.
  • Set small, achievable goals. Divide large goals — such as losing weight — into smaller chunks.
  • Solve problems. When you have a problem, try to solve it right away. It will not become a source of stress in your life.
  • Take care of your body and mind. That way, you’ll be more prepared to tackle stressful situations.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

  • Count to 20. This can give your brain a needed break.
  • Soothe yourself. Get a massage, take a hot bath, have a cup of herbal tea or listen to calming music.
  • Give yourself a pep talk. Think calming thoughts, such as: There is no rush. I can take my time.
  • Try some ways to relax.
  • Stretch. Do yoga or other stretching exercises.
  • Take a breather. If you can, take a break from whatever is making you feel stressed.
  • Talk about your feelings. Tell a friend or counselor how you feel.
  • Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine can make you feel jumpy and anxious.
  • Get moving. Do something active—even if it is just a walk around the block.
  • Do something fun. Go out dancing, go shopping, call a friend. Do whatever you enjoy—as long as it’s healthy.
  • Think clearly. Things may not be as bad as they seem to be.

At the end of the day, stress is something we can’t always avoid. Internal and external factors will always influence our stress levels and how we feel. While stress is an inevitable feeling, the amount of stress we feel can be mediated by following a few of the steps listed above. Doing what you can to avoid putting any added stress on your shoulders will go a long way for your mental, physical, and heart health.

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