Each year, one in three Americans dies from heart disease or stroke, yet many of the deaths are preventable through lifestyle changes.[i] Diet, exercise, and eliminating tobacco use are crucial factors in lowering the risk of heart disease, but another important factor is managing stress.
The link between stress and heart disease is not clear; however, research has shown that stress can lead to physiological responses that are associated with heart disease.[ii] For example, when faced with a stressful situation, the body releases hormones that cause a quickening of the heart beat and higher blood pressure; when experiencing these effects regularly, damage may occur to artery walls. In addition, when stress isn’t managed properly, it can lead to unhealthy behaviors that raise the risk of heart disease, including smoking, increased alcohol consumption, overeating, or lack of exercise. Stress can also cause disrupted sleep whether through physical discomfort, such as aches and pains, or anxiety. A lack of sleep is associated with many of the factors of heart disease, including high blood pressure, diabetes, excess weight, and irregular heart beat.[iii]
Some stress can be avoided by learning to say “no” to extra responsibilities that contribute to an overscheduled calendar; however, much of the stress of daily life cannot be avoided. Children need care, people get sick, and jobs need to be performed. However, learning to manage stress effectively can reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. To help manage stress effectively and lower your risk to heart disease, remember to:
- Breathe deeply. When faced with an immediate stressful situation, take a few minutes to breathe. Focus on your breath, and envision the stress blowing away from the body. Even ten breaths can relax your body.
- Even if you only have a few minutes, move your body. Exercise releases endorphins, which can help you feel good. Physical activity is also a great way to release muscle tension and soothe the aches and pains of stress. Removing yourself from a stressful situation to take a walk is also a great way to allow your mind to refocus and better handle the situation.
- Make time each day to relax and unwind. You can sit quietly, read a book, or do some yoga.
- Schedule time for fun! When days are jam packed, and the to-do list is a mile long, time with friends and family is often the first thing to go; however, time with loved ones is a great way to manage the effects of stress. You can talk through difficult situations or just relax and laugh.
- Receive regular chiropractic care. The negative effects of stress on the body include muscle tension and contraction, which can lead to misalignments of the spine. A Doctor of Chiropractic can detect and adjust these misalignments, which can improve on body aches and pains and help the body function more optimally.
Stress may be unavoidable, but the negative effects are not. Learn to deal with stress effectively to reduce the damaging effects on the body and reduce the risk of heart disease.