A recent study published in the European Health Journal concluded that adults who maintain a healthy, happy approach to life – including strong relationships, satisfying work and a variety of outside interests – are less likely to develop heart disease.
“I believe that’s true,” said Dr. Andrew Prieto, a cardiologist affiliated with Sutter Delta Medical Center. “For years, I’ve been telling my patients that their emotional well-being can play a large part in their cardiac health, and now the literature is backing up what we’ve been saying all along.”
For generations, doctors have encouraged their patients to pay attention to heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, obesity, and alcohol and tobacco use.
Now, it turns out that the effects of ongoing stress, either alone or in addition to pre-existing conditions, can have serious and long-term physical effects on the body. But taking a proactive approach, recognizing the signs of stress and making lifestyle adjustments can go a long way toward averting the risk factors and building a strong, healthy, heart.
Physical signs of stress include sleeplessness, irritability, anger or anxiety, and excessive drinking or smoking. So how do you go about pulling the plug on stressful behavior? By adding some simple, non-stressors to your life, said Prieto.
“The key is to do simple things that in the long run contribute to better heart health. Learn to relax a little bit each day, and do the same with exercise. Schedule these activities like you would any other appointment and you’ll be more likely to stick with them.
“If you have the time, go on an extended vacation, or if you can’t do that, a long weekend away can be just as effective. The idea is to unplug from the stresses of everyday life whenever you can for as long as you can.”
If, however, you feel unable to handle your stress on your own, cautions Prieto, talk to your doctor. Together you can come up with a plan to deal with the causes of stress in your life. For some of us, group or individual therapy can be helpful. In the case of severe depression, medication along with self-monitoring tools can also help.
“Sometimes just planting the seeds of support is enough to get patients to take a closer look at the stress in their lives and make some positive changes,” added Prieto. “At the very least, it’s a good first step, and an important one.”