Individuals feel stressed out when they perceive that a particular situation, event, or person poses a challenge or threat to their well-being. The body's stress response can involve changes in emotions, behaviors, and physical symptoms. The body also is impacted by stress on a physiological level. When the body perceives stress, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, or the body's "fight or flight" response. This causes a chain reaction of events to occur in the body, including the release of stress hormones into the blood stream, increased heart rate and blood pressure, changes in blood flow, diminished immune functioning, and changes in digestion. The cardiovascular system takes a hit every time the stress response is activated. Therefore, chronic or repeated stress can lead to cardiac and vascular damage. Specifically, chronic stress appears to lead to the development of coronary artery disease and it may also trigger acute cardiac events.
Individuals try to cope with stress by engaging in behaviors that comfort them. Some individuals engage in healthy behaviors, such as going for a walk, talking with a friend, or relying on their religious faith. Others turn to unhealthy behaviors during stress, such as smoking, binge eating, or increased alcohol consumption. Therefore, an individual's behavioral response to stress not only impacts emotions, but also can impact physical and cardiac health.
To improve the quality of your life, enhance emotional functioning, and protect your cardiac and vascular health, try to reduce the amount of avoidable stress in your life and practice healthy ways to cope with the inevitable.
To reduce your stress levels:
- Identify the situations and people that trigger your stress and try to limit your exposure to them when possible
- Make sure that your expectations are realistic so that you are not easily disappointed or upset by the outcome of situations or events
- Take time out for yourself every day
- Engage in behaviors that will calm you emotionally and reduce the physiological impact of stress on your body - this could be done through almost anything that you enjoy, including exercise, yoga, massage, reading, prayer, cooking, or watching television
- Be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish
- Prioritize your commitments and do not be afraid to say no or turn down invitations so that you can protect time for the things that matter most to you
- Make yourself a priority
- Identify your support network and use them
- Learn to communicate effectively with others
- Take care of yourself - protect your sleep, watch what you eat, moderate alcohol consumption, and remain physically active
- Laugh more often
The Cardiac Behavioral Medicine service within the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute offers education about stress and one-on-one intervention tailored to help you reduce and cope with the sources of stress in your life. To schedule an appointment, call 312-695-4965.
The health psychologists at the Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness also provide short-term assistance to help you identify and overcome barriers for beginning or maintaining a wellness program. To schedule an appointment, call 312-926-9355.
The Center for Lifestyle Medicine can help you manage your weight, evaluate and manage your risk factors for major life-threatening chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke; and recommend ways to change your behavior that suits your needs and personality. The Center for Lifestyle Medicine team includes physicians, dietitians and a health psychologist. To schedule an appointment, call 312-695-2300.