By Richard L. Peatman, Pharm.D., Meadow Vista Pharmacy
If managing stress is a challenge for you, pay attention. More and more research is pointing to stress as a contributor to a heart attack and other forms of heart disease. From natural disasters to the death of a sibling, to the daily grind of modern-day life, stress can have a big impact on your heart. In fact, some studies show it harms your heart as much as smoking at least five cigarettes a day. If you do have a heart attack, the prognosis may be poorer with chronic stress. And heart patients with high anxiety or depression can double or even triple their risk of dying.
Why does stress have such a big impact? Stress produces lots of physiological changes affecting your heart. For example, you pump out more adrenaline, which can make your blood pressure rise and your heart race. If these changes keep up over time, they can damage your heart's arteries. Of course there's also some good news. Although you can't control all the stressors in your life, you can take steps to better manage your responses to stress. Cultivating a positive, optimistic frame of mind has even been linked to better levels of cholesterol and other markers of heart health.
What can you do to manage you stress? The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following steps.
• Practice positive self-talk at least once a day. This can work wonders at turning around a negative frame of mind. An example of negative self-talk is this: "I hate when this happens." An example of positive self-talk is this: "I can handle this. I've done it before."
• Do something pleasurable for at least 15 minutes a day. Maybe it's taking a bubble bath, strolling in the park, or listening to your favorite music. You might be amazed at how much this can turn around a day that feels like it's gone all wrong.
• Use emergency stress stoppers. These are great for those situations where you feel like you're going to burst! Try methods like these: Count to 10 before you speak. Take a few deep breaths. Go for a walk. Give yourself extra time to get ready in the morning so you won't be running late.
• Practice a daily relaxation method such as deep breathing or other relaxation activity. You need to actively calm the tension in your mind and body.
• Cultivate healthy habits. Get enough sleep, don't forget to laugh, exercise, slow down and accept what you can't change. Taking steps like these will make a big difference in how well you manage stress.
For more information, go to the AHA website at www.heart.org and select the tab Getting Healthy. If you need additional help, discuss your situation with your health care provider. They can be very helpful in directing the care that you need