Managing Stress For a Healthy Heart
Stress is part of life and affects all of us at some point. Know your stress so you can manage it. Unless you know what is stressful to you, you can’t manage it effectively.
How Can Stress Affect Your Body?
Stress affects your body immediately (acutely) and over time. The acute stress response, also called the “fight-or-flight” syndrome begins when we are faced with a threat or stressful situation. Your body responds to the threat by releasing chemicals that trigger a set of changes throughout the body:
• Your heart rate increases to move blood to the muscles and brain
• Your blood pressure goes up
• You breathe more rapidly
• Your digestion slows down
• You begin to perspire more heavily
• The centers of your eyes (pupils) dilate (get larger)
• You feel a rush of strength
Your body becomes tense, alert, and ready for action. Stress can help you to concentrate at peak efficiency and is great motivation. However, your body stays on alert until your mind tells you the situation has passed, which can be a long period of time.
Here are some things you can do to avoid feeling stressed:
• Go to bed 15-30 minutes earlier at night
• Reduce or eliminate caffeine consumption
• Get a massage – even a 15 minute back rub by a family member or friend can do wonders
• Allow yourself some “personal time” every day
• Read a book
• Take a long, warm bubble bath
• Do volunteer work
• Take up a hobby – something you really want to do
Remember that stress comes in cycles and that you will face periods of high stress and low stress. Know the things that stress you out (your job, boss, a friend, co-worker, family member, etc.) and be alert to when stress is in increasing so you can handle it before it becomes overwhelming. The best thing you can do is to take preemptive action to alleviate your stress before it affects your life. If that isn’t possible and you’re already under stress, identify what is causing your stress, and then take steps (try some of the examples above or the mediation steps below) to alleviate or minimize your stresses.
Below is an example of “The Relaxation Response” developed by Dr. Herbert Benson which has been specially adapted to cardiac patients to help them get rid of their stress and relax..
1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
2. Beginning with your feet and slowly moving upward, relax your muscles. Take a moment to experience the feeling of being completely relaxed.
3. Slowly breathe in and out through your nose, paying attention to each breath. As you exhale, begin to silently repeat a short phrase or single word. Choose a word that helps you focus your mind and has meaning for you. If you can’t think of one right away, try a word such as “peace” or “calm”.
4. Continue concentrating on your word and breathing deeply for 10-15 minutes.
5. Sit quietly and undisturbed for a few more minutes with your eyes closed then gradually open your eyes.
Something that works well for many people is applying the examples listed against the backdrop of soothing music, or a soothing voice guiding you through some relaxation steps or simply helping you meditate. Listening to a calming voice or music alone can also help you to relax.