People often complain about stress, but it’s a natural reaction with an essential purpose.
When the body senses danger, it starts its fight-or-flight response. Your nervous system releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which jolt the body into a protective mode. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breathing quickens, and your senses sharpen.
This type of stress response came in handy when early humans needed to fight for survival or flee a predator. But today, the threats arise from problems that disrupt our routines or from unfamiliar situations.
For instance, a flat tire is stressful because we don’t deal with it regularly. Hearing bad news like the sudden death of a family member causes stress because it’s unexpected, and we don’t know to cope.
As men age, they’re exposed to other kinds of stress, too, such as health issues, financial worries, or caring for a spouse or loved one.
Therefore, the problem with modern-day stress is not the trigger, but how you deal with it.
Change your behavior
When stress response becomes more frequent or stays longer — a state called chronic stress — it can cause excessive strain throughout the body, but especially on the heart.
We can imagined chronic stress as an engine that is always revved up too high and it can break down the body.
Chronic stress can become a blazing fire that sustains inflammation, higher blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and sleep disturbances. Coping with stress may result in less attention to correcting unhealthy behaviors, like smoking, heavy drinking, bad eating habits, and lack of exercise. All of these factors contribute to a higher risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a heart-healthy diet all can help temper stress and reduce its harmful effects. But if you need more help to cope better with stress when it occurs, change your reaction to stressors.
“Practicing certain behaviors can train your brain and body to mitigate your reaction to stressful situations, so you learn not to let chronic stress control you.” Here are three strategies he suggests.
Much research has shown that practicing gratitude can help lower stress levels. It is our deep faith, belief and being thankful to what we have and achieved, rather than longing for what we don’t have. Gratitude teaches that there are positive things going on in your life, so you don’t have to get stressed about perceived negative events.
In fact, a study published in September 2015 in Contemporary Clinical Trials found that people who practiced gratitude after a heart attack had faster recovery times compared with those who did not.
Another way to practice gratitude is to write thank-you notes, suggests a study in the September 2018 issue of Psychological Science. Researchers found that people who wrote a letter of appreciation to someone who’d done something nice for them felt more positive afterward.
You have no doubt overcome significant stressful events before, like a financial setback, personal tragedy, or health issue. When another crisis occurs, look back at the strength and creativity you showed to overcome them and try to replicate it.
When it comes to health problems, it is recommended to imagine the best possible outcome. For instance, if you are worried about an injury that keeps you off your feet for a while, focus on what can occur after your recovery, like taking a vacation.
Then begin to set health goals to meet that expectation, like doing rehab, training, or changing your diet. A proactive approach helps you develop optimistic health expectations.
This attitude can protect your heart from future problems, too. An analysis published online Sept. 27, 2019, by Cardiology looked at data from 15 studies involving almost 230,000 people and found that people who expressed constant feelings of optimism had a lower risk of cardiovascular problems compared with more pessimistic people.
Get SMART about stress relief
Most people can’t avoid stress. So how can you best deal with it?
Stress management need our comprehensive approach. The Stress Management and Resilience Training (SMART) program teaches self-care practices that help buffer daily stress and foster resilience — the ability to cope with stress.
During individual and group sessions, people learn about stress and its connection to physical or emotional problems. The program also emphasizes the importance of healthy eating, restorative sleep, and physical activity. One key focus is learning a variety of techniques to elicit the relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response.
The relaxation response can be elicited in many ways, including meditation or repetitive prayer. You can practice evoking this calming response with two simple steps:
· Choose a calming focus. Good examples are your breath, a sound (“om”), a short prayer, or a positive word (such as “relax” or “peace”) or phrase (“breathing in calm, breathing out tension”; “I am relaxed”). Repeat this aloud or silently as you inhale or exhale.
· Let go and relax. Don’t worry about how you’re doing. When you notice your mind has wandered, simply take a deep breath or say to yourself “thinking, thinking” and gently return your attention to your focus.
Doing this exercise for 10 to 20 minutes a day may help reduce the effects of stress on your body.
Find your sense of purpose
People without a sense of purpose often get easily stressed because they feel they are no longer in control of their lives. This can have a direct effect on heart health.
A study published in the February/March 2016 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine reviewed 10 studies, involving a total of 137,000 people, that dealt with death rates among people with a high or low sense of purpose.
Researchers found that a high sense of purpose was associated with a 23% lower rate of death from all causes during a given study period and a 19% lower rate of heart attacks, strokes, or the need for a bypass or stent procedure.
One way to regain your sense of purpose to focus on a health-related life goal. For instance, if you want to dance at your granddaughter’s wedding, you may have to take dance lessons. Or if you want to take a hiking trip, you may have to lose weight and increase leg strength by walking more. These types of life goals may feel small, but they can help you refocus your attention and energy, which can help build a stronger resistance to stress.