Heart Disease: How To Reduce The Risk

What You Should Know About Managing Stress Effectively

Life’s events are not in themselves stressful, but our reactions to those events can leave us feeling “stressed out.” Some people enjoy a fast-paced life with many challenges. For these people, slow, uneventful periods in their lives may be more stressful than challenging ones. Other people can become overwhelmed by a constant stream of pressure, demands, and lack of time. The key appears to be how we view and react to situations.

Does Stress Increase The Risk For Heart Disease?

A growing collection of studies indicates that stress adversely affects heart health. It is not yet clear whether stress itself increases the risk of coronary heart disease, or if it simply exacerbates other risk factors. Some people may react to stress by overeating, smoking, or growing depressed and exercising less.

Studies show that stress may be especially harmful if it involves the following:

  • Frequent feelings of hostility, anger, and suspicion of the world around you
  • Being caught in situations where you have little control over the demands place on you
  • Having a low level of social support from family and friends
  • Experiencing major life events such as divorce, illness, or job loss

Stress can increase some people’s risk for heart disease because it:

  • Temporarily increases blood pressure or helps to keep blood pressure high
  • Interferes with the ability to make other healthful changes such as stopping smoking, exercising, or eating a healthier diet

What Are The Symptoms Of Stress?

Symptoms of stress can include the following:

  • Sweaty hands, tight muscles, or clenched jaw
  • Inability to sleep at night or wanting to sleep too much during the day
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Feeling short-tempered or easily upset
  • Feeling continually rushed
  • Decreased social interaction with friends and family

Need To Know:

Is stress harmful for you?

Some people may enjoy a life full of pressure and deadlines. Since stress is not always bad, how do you know if it is bad for you? To help you find out, answer the following questions:

  • Do you have physical symptoms of stress, such as clenched jaw, sweaty hands, or tight muscles? Do you eat, drink, or smoke to calm down?
  • Do you often feel that you are short of time?
  • Do you speak fast and tend to act as if you are in a hurry?
  • Do you hate losing?
  • Do you find it hard to forget work?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, stress may be interfering with your ability to adopt a lifestyle that is healthful for your heart.

Now, answer the following three questions:

  • Do you feel angry when people are in your way, for example, in a traffic jam?
  • Do you feel that a lot of the people you deal with every day are incompetent?
  • Do you feel that most people act from selfish motives?

If you answered yes to any of the last three questions, you may have the type of cynical mistrust and hostility that experts think may increase risk for coronary heart disease.

How-To Information:

How you can manage stress

People who are able to manage stress do three things well:

  1. They change stressful situations when possible.
  2. They find new ways to look at stressful situations when it is not possible to change them.
  3. They find stress-relieving outlets.

Here are some suggestions to help you cope with stress in your life:

  • Keep a stress diary where you can note situations or relationships that make you feel unpleasantly stressed.
  • Plan to deflect your stress by avoiding a situation, altering it, or adapting to it. For example, if driving to work in busy traffic leaves you tense and angry, you could take a train to work, drive earlier when there is less traffic, or use the time to listen to tapes or music.
  • Relive stress through exercise. Take a walk, or go for a bicycle ride.
  • Practice deep muscle relaxation at least once daily. Sit in a comfortable chair in a quiet room and set an alarm for 15 minutes. Then tighten and relax each muscle group in the body in turn, starting with arms, legs, trunk, neck, etc. Close your eyes and imagine a soothing scene such as a beach or clouds as you relax your muscles.
  • Watch for physical symptoms of stress and make a conscious effort to calm yourself when they appear. For example, if you notice your knuckles turning white as you are gripping the steering wheel, tell yourself to relax.

If the above suggestions do not help relieve your stress, or if you frequently feel angry at the world, you may need to seek outside help in dealing with stress. Your physician can refer you to a mental health professional who specializes in dealing with stress-related anxiety, or look for courses in stress management.

For more information about managing stress, go to Stress And How-To Manage It.


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