If you have a heart condition such as atrial fibrillation, heart failure, high blood pressure, or even high cholesterol, you may be feeling stressed out right now. What's worse, you may be feeling stressed about being stressed.
"It can be a vicious cycle -- stress can make heart conditions worse," says N.A. Mark Estes, MD, director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Center at Tufts University School of Medicine.
The heart has four areas, or chambers. During each heartbeat, the two upper chambers (atria) contract, followed by the two lower chambers (ventricles). This is directed by the heart's electrical system.
The electrical impulse begins in an area called the sinus node, located in the right atrium. When the sinus node fires, an impulse of electrical activity spreads through the right and left atria, causing them to contract, forcing blood into the ventricles.
Then the electrical impulses travel in...
Stress hormones can cause potentially dangerous swelling in your arteries. Stress also raises your risk for diabetes. What's more, you may cope with stress in some unhealthy ways -- like drinking too much, overeating, or smoking.
"Trying to prevent stress completely doesn't usually work, since life just gets stressful sometimes," says Gordon Tomaselli, MD, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Instead, he suggests developing ways to cope with stress when it appears.
Get physically active. Experts are unanimous: Exercise is one of the best things you can do for a heart condition. Not only does it improve your physical health, it also can improve your mood and cut stress, says Estes. How much do you need? Aim for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week of moderately intense activity a week. Take a brisk walk, swim, bike, or do just about anything that gets your heart going. If you have a heart condition, check with your doctor before starting a new workout routine.
Try active relaxation. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and deep breathing are all good options, Tomaselli says. "If you find an approach that gives you satisfaction and lowers your stress, stick with it," he says.
Reach out to friends and family. People you love are some of the best stress-busters you have. Give yourself a break. Just have some fun and share a laugh.
Do something new. Feeling stressed out and sick can put you in a rut. Push yourself to do something new. Visit a museum. Go to a bookstore. Read on a park bench. Go to a Spanish class.
Help others. At a time when you're feeling worried and sick, helping others can give you an unexpected lift.
Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep seems to increase levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Aim for seven to nine hours a night.
Avoid triggers. Take a pass on the situations – and the people – that you know stress you out. Spend time with people who help you feel calm and happy. Put yourself in situations that engage you.
See a therapist. If you think your stress is getting in the way of your life, see a therapist. Talking about your concerns can help you discover new ways to approach your problems.