As countless studies have shown, stress is terribly bad for our health – and especially the health of our hearts. If last year taught us anything, it is critical we find ways to manage stress effectively in order to take better care of ourselves, whether it’s dealing with an economic and healthcare crisis, home schooling, running a business or even the stress of a daily commute.
What is Stress?
Our body’s stress response is actually a very normal and useful process. Basically, when the body senses danger, it prepares you to react – fight or flight. It does this by sending a series of chemical signals from our brains through our bodies using a hormone called cortisol. In reaction, our heart rate increases, we breathe faster and shallower, our senses sharpen and our muscles tense.
The problem is that our modern lifestyles cause this reaction to happen very regularly, whether it is in response to an unexpectedly high bill, bumper-to-bumper traffic, our work environment, frustration in our relationships… you name it, we’ll stress out about it. Simply put, we stress out too often, for too long.
How Stress Affects Your Heart
When we stress out too often and don’t manage the stress in our lives in a healthy way, we put a lot of pressure on our bodies – especially our hearts.
- It increases risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), chest pain and panic attacks. It can even change the way your blood clots, increasing heart attack risks!
- It is often expressed in unhealthy eating, which increases risks of obesity, diabetes, unstable blood sugar.
- It is also often expressed in unhealthy lifestyle habits too, including smoking, drinking alcohol, and not exercising.
So, How Can We De-Stress Our Hearts in 2021?
Stress will always be a part of our lives, so it is all about how we manage that stress.
- Exercise – Exercise of all types, and especially cardiovascular exercise, releases endorphins. These “feel good” hormones counter the cortisol in our systems, helping to release tension, regulate breathing and relax the body and mind. It also helps us to maintain a healthy weight and boost heart muscle health, helping to prevent heart disease, control blood pressure and manage other health conditions.
- Meditation – Meditation doesn’t have to be spiritual. In essence, it is a deep breathing exercise focussed on relaxation, clearing the mind, and developing your personal focus. Studies have shown the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on heart health, specifically on reducing high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors.
- Get outside – For most people, being in nature is a remarkably effective way to relax, re-energise and re-group. It can be as simple as walking in the local park once a day, going for hikes, camping, or taking a holiday somewhere a bit more remote than usual.
- Eat a balanced diet – Don’t aim for perfection – aim for balance! There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a steak, a piece of cake or a glass of really good red wine, but it’s good to balance your diet with foods that will support your immune system, digestive system, weight and blood pressure – all of which will help your heart. Try to eat plenty of seasonal, fresh vegetables and fruits, wholegrains, fish and raw nuts. Make red meats, sugar and processed foods an occasional treat.
- Sleep well – You should have 6-8 hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep each night. This is the time that your body needs to naturally lower blood pressure and hormone levels. If you have sleep apnoea or your partner snores, speak to professionals for a solution that works for you. Invest in a good quality bed and supportive pillows, and wind down the day with limited screen time and a cosy bedtime routine.
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