When Ramona Richman's older sister was diagnosed with high cholesterol, Richman wasn't worried about her own risk. The San Francisco Bay Area stay-at-home mom had her weight under control and assumed that her diet was healthy. So when her doctor broke the news that she, too, had high cholesterol, she was shocked. Her reading of 269 mg/dL was well over the desirable level of less than 200 mg/dL. "My sister had high cholesterol and went on medication, so I imagine that it's a genetic thing," Richman,...
The stress itself can be a problem. It raises your blood pressure, and it's not good for your body to constantly be exposed to stress hormones. Studies also link stress to changes in the way blood clots, which makes a heart attack more likely.
The way you handle stress also matters. If you respond to it in unhealthy ways -- such as smoking, overeating, or not exercising -- that makes matters worse. On the other hand, if you exercise, connect with people, and find meaning despite the stress, that makes a difference in your emotions and in your body.
You may also want to:
Change what you can to lower your stress.
Accept that there are some things you cannot control.
Before you agree to do something, consider whether you can really do it. It's OK to say "no" to requests that will add more stress to your life.
Stay connected with people you love.
Make it a point to relax every day. You could read a book, listen to music, meditate, pray, do yoga or tai chi, journal, or reflect on what is good in your life.
Be active! When you exercise, you'll burn off some of your stress and be better prepared to handle problems.
Some people have a hard time with stress because they are depressed. If that's you, seek help from a doctor or counselor. Depression is linked to heart disease, and it can be treated.
If you're finding it hard to shift your way of handling stress, take a stress management class, read a book on managing stress, or sign up for a few sessions with a therapist. It's an investment in your health and the quality of your life, both now and for years to come.