How many times have you gone to the doctor for one problem or another only to be asked if you have any stress in your life? Ever wonder why?
Many of us find it hard to fathom that the stomach pain, headaches, shortness of breath, or even heart problems we’re experiencing can come from our being stressed at work, at home, while driving in traffic (road rage), from an unstable economy, crime, or any number of events that can raise our level of anxiety. Yet stress can be at the heart of any number of health issues, and can lead to death. Seriously.
“The relationship between stress, heart disease and sudden death has been recognized since antiquity,” so says the American Institute of Stress (AIS). Something as catastrophic as a hurricane or an earthquake can raise our level of stress to the point of putting pressure on the heart and causing it to fail. Other factors that contribute to stress include anger, being aggressive, always on the clock–yes, time can make us anxious, and being preoccupied with work. It’s possible that some of us carry one or more of these traits: being an aggressive driver because you’re late for work or an appointment (something you can manage by just giving yourself more time to get there, or something that is out of your control even if you manage to leave early and still get caught in traffic), allowing yourself to get anxious over a deadline, taking on more than you can handle (getting yourself involved in too many activities/juggling too much at work and not taking time for yourself).
There is an excellent National Geographic documentary entitled Stress: Portrait of a killer, which maintains that stress is one of the “biggest silent epidemic in current society.” Prolonged exposure to stress can be harmful to our health and can increase the risk of heart disease. According to WebMD, chronic stress exposes our bodies to elevated levels of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), and can also be triggered by changes in your environment, or physical and emotional changes.
The good news is that stress can be managed even if it does not completely go away. The first thing you need to do is locate the source of your stress. Where is it coming from? Sometimes stress can come from inside of you as when you don’t meet a deadline due to procrastination, or you worry needlessly about something that is clearly beyond your control (and the key is not to try and control it). But demands on your time, responsibilities from work or family are things that you can identify and make adjustments to in order to relieve the stress they cause. To examine the stress in your life, take a good look at your habits, attitudes, and excuses. Are you placing blame on others for your anxiety? Is your stress temporary? Make a list to pinpoint where your stress may be coming from. Don’t neglect the fact that heart disease can be caused by the amount of stress in your life.
Once you have identified the source, look at how you cope with stress. What is your usual response? How does it help or how does it make matters worse? Think about how you can manage stress instead of allowing stress to manage you. Click here to find some blissful ways to lower your level of stress. Just taking in deep breaths can make a world of difference when you begin to feel anxious about a looming deadline or getting your kids off to school so you can get to work on time. Consuming healthy foods can also help to eliminate stress and worry. It is also a boon to keeping a healthy heart. Vitamin C may help to reduce stress hormones, so eat foods rich in this vitamin, like red bell pepper, oranges, greens, papaya and strawberries. Listen to your favorite song to take your mind off the thing that is stressing you out. A favorite of this writer’s is Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” or “Happy Feelings” by Earth, Wind & Fire. Find something that lifts your spirit and may even make you dance. Movement is good for the body and mind. If possible, get up and take a walk or do some yoga. Laugh, play, and by all means, relax.
Whatever you do, don’t let stress weigh on you. It can be heavy and burdensome, so when you feel it coming, protect yourself and your heart. A little self-love can go a long way.