By Amy Rolfs, RN, Cardiac Rehabilitation
Veterans Memorial Hospital
Stress is a natural part of life. Short-term stress is useful for accomplishing difficult tasks, meeting deadlines, dealing with major life events, and is necessary for survival in life-threatening situations.
Chronic stress is not healthy. This is kind of stress is an underlying level of stress that we feel throughout our day. Chronic stress can be caused by work pressures, family issues, financial difficulties, overextending ourselves, and the pressures of our fast-paced lives.
In a state of stress, our bodies release hormones that increase blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. These hormones disrupt our immune system, digestion, and reproductive system. They alter our mood, motivation and put us in a constant state of high alert.
Prolonged exposure to these elevated hormone levels put us at higher risk for developing:
- Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke
- Digestive problems
- Muscle tension and pain
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Managing our stress is a vital part of decreasing our risk of developing these conditions. We cannot avoid stress completely, but we can take steps to reduce our stress levels and manage our stress. Stress management strategies include:
- Identify areas of your life that increase your stress level. Look for ways to manage these areas of your life more effectively. Develop habits and routines in this area to make it easier to manage. Ask others for help! Asking someone else to give you a hand. Even a little help with a small task can relieve a lot of stress.
- Get adequate sleep! Stress and sleep are interconnected. Strive for 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Practice relaxation. It takes practice! Close your eyes and do some deep breathing for 5-10 min. Yoga, meditation, and massage are excellent relaxation techniques.
- Take time for hobbies that help you relax and foster a healthy lifestyle like reading, walking, and spending some time outdoors.
- Foster healthy relationships by talking with friends and family.
- Volunteer in your community or help someone you know
- Do 30-40 minutes of exercise, 4-5 days per week. People who exercise have a reduced physical response to stress. Every time you are physically active, whether you take a walk or play tennis, your body releases mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins. Exercising not only melts away stress it also protects against heart disease by lowering your blood pressure, strengthening your heart muscle, and helping you maintain a healthy weight.
Stress management is an important aspect of preventing and managing heart disease. Helping patients identify how they deal with stress and discussing healthy ways to control their stress is a key part of Cardiac Rehabilitation. Veterans Memorial Hospital offers Cardiac Rehabilitation for patients recovering from cardiac events such as heart attack, stent placement, bypass surgery, heart valve surgery, and congestive heart failure treatment.
Regardless of stress levels, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping a watchful eye on heart health is important for everyone. You can begin by scheduling an appointment with your provider to discuss your health history, current health concerns, and assess the overall state of your cardiovascular health.