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April Is Stress Awareness Month

Stress Awareness Month comes around each April and you guessed it, today’s blog will discuss stress and how it affects the heart. The effect of stress on the heart is a concept that is pretty well-known to most. But do you really know much about the full breath of issues that stress causes? And is what you think you know truth or myth?

Before we get started it is important to understand that this is stress AWARENESS month, not stress prevention month. Why? Stress is unavoidable. If you have emotions, you have stress. Rather, it is how you manage the stress that makes a difference in your heart health.

Physiologically, when we are stressed, our heart rate increases, our muscles become tense. Extreme stress can even cause tunnel vision and other strange reactions to this very powerful emotion. But it is what’s happening deep inside that truly causes stress-related problems. When we stress out, there are hormonal changes in our bodies. After all, stress is actually a very primitive reaction. Our ancestors became stressed when, for example, they were threatened and needed to run quickly or react fast to an impending threat. Of course, today, there are very few such threats, yet we find ourselves in a constant state of low-level stress.

When we are stressed, our bodies secrete cortisol and adrenaline – two hormones that improve our performance and can help us push through a difficult moment. However, these hormones also cause us to gain weight. Of course, excess weight and obesity can have follow-up conditions including cardiovascular disease.

Is Stress Always Bad?

The short answer is no, stress is not always bad. It is a relatively normal part of modern-day life. Rather, it is how we react to stress that really makes a difference. If we allow stress to control our thoughts and emotions, mental and physical illness can begin or worsen. So how can one manage stress well?

It seems counterintuitive but the first and most important way to manage stress is to accept and understand that it exists. Accepting stress allows you to look at it without the emotional and even physical distractions that often it manifests. Knowing when you’re stressed out helps with a number of things.

  • First, you better understand what gets you stressed out – in other words what your triggers may be. This, in turn, allows you to better address them.
  • A better understanding of stress also allows you to identify when it’s happening and implement stress relieving activities. These may include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, exercise or any other outlet that is both safe and effective against stress.

The bottom line is that stress is everywhere, but it doesn’t have to be an impossible hurdle to jump. Rather, embracing stress and managing it appropriately is the single best way to lessen its effects on your day-to-day heart health.

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