Everyone feels and reacts to stress in different ways, but it is how much stress, and how we react to it, that can lead to a variety of health problems.
More research is needed to determine how stress contributes to heart disease. But what stress may affect, are our behaviours and factors that increase heart disease: high blood pressure, increased cholesterol levels, smoking, lack of exercise and over-eating.
Some people may choose to drink too much alcohol as a stress reliever, continue to smoke, or over-eat. These habits can increasingly raise blood pressure and cause further inflammation of the arteries.
Whenever we’re in a stressful situation our bodies release the hormone adrenaline, causing our breathing and heart rate to increase. This reaction is preparing us to deal with the situation, and is commonly known as 'fight or flight'.
When stress is constant our bodies remain in a ‘high gear’ for days or weeks at a time, a car cannot run indefinitely in a high gear, neither can our bodies.
But how can we manage our stress?
For some this may not be easy, and can be often be a forced ‘relaxation’ following an unexpected acute illness.
My big stress reliever is exercise. When my head feels it’s going to burst, and if it’s possible, I’ll go for a walk... within ten minutes in the fresh air, I begin to feel calm and less stressed.
If it’s not possible to go for a walk, I’ll hide away within the house, sit quietly and practise some slow deep breathing. I’m always amazed how quickly my rate slows and how calm I feel after only two to three minutes. I’ve shut myself in the loo on more than one occasion, when looking for some space!
Meditation and Mindfulness have become buzz words recently, but Stanford University found that when fifteen minutes of meditation was practised daily by people with cardiovascular disease, they reduced their risk of death, heart attack and stroke by 48%.
These changes were associated with lower blood pressure and lower stress levels, pretty convincing isn't it?
Whatever you're doing this weekend, be kind to your heart, relax, slow your breathing and heart rate, if only for five minutes, you never know you may enjoy the feeling of calm.