Stress is a part of daily life. Our ability to handle stress largely determines the impact that it will have on our health and emotional well being. A study done on Behavior Cardiology reported that psychosocial stress accounted for approximately 30% of the attributable risk of “acute myocardial infarction”. That’s a fancy word for heart attack. The heart and blood vessels comprise the two elements of the cardiovascular system that work together in providing nourishment and oxygen to the organs of the body. The activity of these two elements is also coordinated in the body’s response to stress.
From the American Heart Association, “When stress is excessive, it can contribute to everything from high blood pressure, also called hypertension, to asthma to ulcers to irritable bowel syndrome ,” said Ernesto L. Schiffrin, M.D., Ph.D., physician-in-chief at Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital, and professor and vice chair of research for the Department of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal.
Your body’s response to stress may be a headache, back strain, or stomach pains. Stress can also zap your energy, wreak havoc on your sleep and make you feel cranky, forgetful and out of control. Acute stress has the potential to causes an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart muscle, with the stress hormones, adrenaline (a hormone that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise), noradrenaline and cortisol, acting as messengers for these effects. In addition, the blood vessels that direct blood to the large muscles and the heart dilate, thereby increasing the amount of blood pumped to these parts of the body and elevating blood pressure. This is also known as the fight or flight response. Once the acute stress episode has passed, the body returns to its normal state.
When stress is constant, your body remains in high gear off and on for days or weeks at a time. Although the link between stress and heart disease isn’t clear, chronic stress may cause some people to drink too much alcohol which can increase your blood pressure and may damage the artery walls. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure can take a toll on the body. This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk of hypertension, heart attack or stroke.
When you’re under stress, do you:
- eat to calm down?
- speak and eat very fast?
- drink alcohol or smoke?
- rush around but do not get much done?
- work too much?
- sleep too little, too much or both?
- slow down?
- try to do too many things at once?
- Stop smoking and tobacco use. Smoking makes you 2-4 times more likely to develop heart disease, and it keeps oxygen from your brain, increases your risk for blood clots, inhibits your ability to be physically active, and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. If you have tried multiple times to quit, please let us know we may have a healthy toxin free recommendation for you. Some may be allergic to the patches and the gum can trigger medical conditions like trigeminal neuralgia. Also ask your medical provider if you have not already spoken to them.
- Stay positive. Just having a good laugh can help your heart. Laughter has been found to lower levels of stress hormones, reduce inflammation in the arteries, and increase “good” HDL cholesterol. Use oils like Bergamot (Citrus aurantium bergamia), Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata), Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), Lemon (Citrus limon), and Orange (Citrus sinensis) and Rose (Rosa damascena) are just a few you can put on your wrists or in a diffuser to increase your body’s ability to let go of negativity. Use oils on your wrists or in a diffuser
- Meditate, journal, pray, breathe. This practice of inward, and upward, focused thought and deep breathing has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure. Include oils in this routine like Frankincense (Boswellia carterii). This will signal the body to physically relax as well as mentally and spiritually.
- Look to plants. With naturally delicious scents like Lime (Citrus aurantifolia), Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) on hand you can escape to a tropical paradise of calm and relaxation!
- Stay busy is a great way to combat negative emotions and stay positive. When our plans are in progress, we feel hopeful and motivated. Often when we’re busy, we don’t have time to dwell on feelings of worry, sadness, loneliness, anger or jealousy, which can be a good thing. In moderation, of course.
Medicines are helpful for many things, but usually not for stress. Some people take tranquilizers to calm them down immediately, but it’s far better in the long term to learn to manage your stress through relaxation or stress management techniques. Be careful not to confuse stress with anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety, speak with your doctor a treatment or management plan including whether you need medication. If you suffer from chronic illness you could possibly suffer from neurological condition called Dysautonomia, a wide range of conditions that affect the autonomic nervous system. Symptoms include fainting, cardiovascular issues, and breathing problems. It is linked to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. It is commonly misdiagnosed in women as anxiety!
Figuring out how stress pushes your buttons is an important step in dealing with it. If your stress is nonstop, stress management classes may help or reach out to a local mental health provider, we also recommend checking your electrodermal activity for a deeper individual awareness to help you pin point those areas that need some personalized support! Please seek help to get a handle on your stress, like your life depends on it!