Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stress is a Definite Health Risk – How do You Manage?

According to the American College of Cardiology, stress is a definite predictor of heart disease. The jury is no longer out – feelings of irritability, lack of sleep, job stress, marital woes, racial prejudice, and care giving are all examples of stressors that can greatly affect heart health. The chance of developing heart disease is even stronger when stress occurs suddenly - loss of job, job promotion, the death of a loved one or close friend, and natural disasters can happen at any time.

The recognition of the link between stress and heart disease should prompt each of us to find successful ways to manage our health – we need to eliminate activities that can be controlled, and find ways to deal with chronic and acute stressors - something that is probably more easily said than done. Studies now show that our bodies undergo physiologic changes in response to anxiety. Stress wreaks havoc with the sympathetic nervous system, and doubles our risk of future heart attack. Stress doesn’t directly cause heart attack, but is thought to act as a trigger. Family physicians are being urged to consider stress as a risk factor for heart disease, much the same as smoking, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Our judicial system has been flooded with court cases challenging the notion that stress has lead to disease.

Successful techniques for stress management include meditation, exercise, progressive relaxation training and the use of medications. Many people shun medication because of undesirable side effects or expense.

How many people do you personally know who simply “put up” with stress, as though it were a fact of life? It seems to be the norm, doesn’t it? Well, now we know that we need to work harder than previously thought to manage our time and restore calm to our lives.

We know much about the positive effect of exercise, but many people are hesitant to try other forms of relaxation. In fact, a lot of people don’t engage in regular exercise. Learning to relax is different for everyone. Most of us don’t even talk about stress – we just try to move past it.

What do you do to relieve stress? Have you changed your life to facilitate your health, perhaps by giving up a good job with a long commute, or downsizing to simplify your day to day existence? I invite you to please share your personal strategy – we will all benefit.

Citation: J Am Coll Cardiol 2008; 51:1237-46.