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Stress and Heart Disease Prevention

What is stress?
Stress is the physical and emotional reaction people experience when they encounter sudden changes in life. Some stress can be positive, as it may help to deal with daily challenges. But stress can be harmful to your health when it becomes continuous and is not dealt with in a healthy way.

What causes stress?
Situations that cause physical or emotional challenges can cause stress. Stress can come from both positive and negative changes, like a demanding job or losing a job, moving to a new home, losing a loved one, divorce, marriage or having a baby.

How does the body respond to stress?
The body’s reaction to stressful situations stems from a very basic fight or flight instinct needed thousands of years ago when faced with danger. The body prepares itself to increase concentration and cope with a challenge. Heart rate increases, muscles become tense, blood pressure rises and sweating may occur.

When the body is faced with continual stress, it never gets a chance to relax. This can lead to behavioral changes like nervousness, fear, confusion, worry and irritability. It also can lead to a host of health issues, including:

  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Ulcers
  • Back pain
  • Drug and alcohol abuse 

How can stress be controlled?
It is important to identify what is causing stress. Once a stressor has been identified, it can be avoided or planned out so there are no surprises. If stress is unavoidable, it can be managed in healthy ways with some simple lifestyle changes.

Healthy ways to manage stress

  1. Read a book.
  2. Exercise regularly.
  3. Eat a nutritious diet.
  4. Freely express feelings of joy.
  5. Write things down; make a to-do list.
  6. Leave ample time to get to an appointment.
  7. Rid your life of things that cause clutter.
  8. Listen to relaxing music.
  9. Meditate.
  10. Daydream more often.
  11. Make time for activities you enjoy.
  12. Say “no” more often.
  13. Concentrate on pleasant thoughts.
  14. Don’t keep feelings bottled in.
  15. Be a friend.
  16. Take some time to smell the roses.
  17. Have a real conversation with a child.
  18. Go out with a friend.
  19. Compose a poem.
  20. Take a warm bath, close your eyes and relax.
  21. Set realistic goals.
  22. Remember the good times.
  23. Call a favorite relative.
  24. Give hugs freely.
  25. Turn off violence-ridden news or TV shows.
  26. Be a peacemaker.
  27. Think before you act.
  28. Sing.
  29. Watch a sunrise or a sunset.
  30. Practice yoga or deep breathing.
  31. Get a massage.
  32. Keep a sense of humor.

Relaxation techniques
Because stress causes emotional and physical tension, it’s important to manage stress by relaxing the mind and the muscles.

Relax with deep breathing. By repeatedly inhaling slowly through your nose, holding your breath for a few seconds, then exhaling through your mouth, you can rid yourself of the fast, shallow breath that is a sign of stress. Do this 10 times when you feel stressed. Deep breathing will get more oxygen into your bloodstream and nourish your brain and muscles.

Relax with simple meditation. Take a break in a quiet place and force your mind to focus on a peaceful image, thought or word. When a stressful thought enters your mind, push it out and bring yourself back to your image, thought or word. Try visualizing a favorite vacation spot or memory in which you were not stressed. It takes just a few minutes of this to feel much more at peace.

Relax your muscles. Stress causes muscles to become tense. Tightening and relaxing different muscle groups will help take the tension out. Concentrate on tightening the muscles of one part of the body, like a leg, hold it for a few seconds, then relax the muscles slowly. You will feel the tension melt away.

Stretching and exercise are other great ways to relax tense muscles and rid yourself of stress. Simple stretches of the back and shoulders work wonders, and any type of exercise that gets your body moving will release stress and calm your mind.

Relax with massage therapy. If your muscles have developed knots from constant tension, massage therapy is a great way to loosen them up. Be sure to tell the massage therapist where you are most tense and which strokes make you feel better.

Is your stress level unhealthy? Download a Stress Assessment  

If you feel overwhelmed, seek assistance from a health care professional. For more information or for a physician referral, call 629-1234.

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