Protect Your Heart From Chronic Stress

A Latin American woman.
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The stresses of daily life affect us all: rush hour traffic, a sick child, an unexpected bill, a looming deadline. These kinds of challenges can make you feel anxious, exhausted or edgy. Fortunately, they’re usually short-term concerns.

But when you’re stressing about serious issues you can’t escape — like your family’s safety, your immigration status or the situation in your home country — it can take a toll on your health. A 2019 study found that worry over deportation is linked to increased risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

So how do you stay physically healthy when you’re struggling emotionally? Here are some ways to cope with stress and anxiety and protect your heart for long-term wellness.

Symptoms of Stress

When overly stressed, you might feel overwhelmed, depressed or not in control of your life. It’s important to recognize when you’re struggling and reach out for help. If you have any of these symptoms, please take care of yourself and talk with your doctor.

Stress often causes:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Fear of the future
  • Feeling numb
  • Headaches, back pains or stomach problems
  • Irritability and tension
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Nightmares
  • Sadness or depression that doesn’t go away
  • Shock or disbelief
  • Substance abuse
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Trouble concentrating

How to Manage Stress

It might feel impossible to get worries off your mind. But if you’re able to let them go for a few moments at a time, you’ll help calm your body and mind and become better able to manage what you’re facing.

Here are some ways to find relief from the anxiety caused by chronic stress:

  1. Go outside. Fresh air can help you find perspective. Take a walk around the block (exercise is also great for cardiovascular health). Look at the stars. Feel the breeze and try to shake yourself out of any swirling thoughts.
  2. Keep a journal. Put your concerns on paper. Commit to writing even for a few minutes each day to vent your feelings. You can keep your journal completely private or choose to let a loved one read and talk through your anxieties.
  3. Make time for an activity you love. Remember that it’s hard to care for others when you don’t care for yourself. Consider getting a babysitter to make it happen. Maybe you want to try a new restaurant or fitness class. If you can’t leave home, cook a favorite meal or call a good friend to chat.
  4. Practice deep breathing. Try “4-7-8” breathing next time you feel yourself getting stressed. Start by exhaling completely through your mouth. Then inhale through your nose while mentally counting to four. Next, hold your breath for a count of seven. Finally, exhale completely through your mouth to a count of eight. This simple technique can be done anytime, anywhere and calms your nervous system when you repeat it a few times.
  5. Speak with your doctor or therapist. Your whole health — body, mind and spirit — is important. Contact your primary care physician for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a mental stress evaluation. Your doctor can also help you manage any physical effects of stress.
  6. Spend time with family and friends. Isolation can make stress and depression worse. Connecting with others reminds us we’re important, supported and loved. Plus, friends and family always know how to make us smile.
  7. Try to get some rest. Make sure you’re getting 7+ hours of sleep per night. If you’re able, take a 30-minute mid-day nap to recharge, especially if you didn’t get those hours at night. In addition to lowering stress levels, getting enough sleep can help improve physical and cognitive function.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

It’s normal to feel stress, but when it becomes overwhelming or unbearable, it can be hard on your heart and mind. Surround yourself with positive friends and loved ones, and reach out to your AdventHealth provider for whole-health support. If you don’t have one yet, find a doctor near you.

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