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Heart Failure and Stress Management

How Can I Keep a Positive Attitude?

A positive attitude and self-esteem are good defenses against stress, because they help you view stress as a challenge rather than a problem. A positive attitude keeps you in control when there are inevitable changes in your life. A positive attitude means telling yourself there are things you can do to improve certain situations and admitting that sometimes there's nothing you can do.

To maintain a positive attitude during a stressful situation (or to prepare yourself for a potentially stressful situation), keep these tips in mind:

  • Stay calm. Stop what you're doing. Breathe deeply. Reflect on your choices.
  • Always tell yourself you can get through the situation.
  • Try to be objective, realistic, and flexible.
  • Try to keep the situation in perspective. Think about the possible solutions. Choose one that is the most acceptable and feasible.
  • Think about the outcome: Ask yourself, what is the worst possible thing that can happen? Chances are that won't happen.
  • Tell yourself that you can learn something from every situation.

How Can I Reduce My Stressors?

While it is impossible to live your life completely stress-free, it is possible to reduce the harmful effects of certain stressors. Here are some suggestions:

  • First identify the stressor. What's causing you to feel stressed?
  • Avoid hassles and minor irritations if possible. For example, if traffic jams cause you stress, try taking a different route, riding the train or bus or car-pooling.
  • When you experience a change in your life, try to continue doing the things that you enjoyed before the change occurred.
  • Learn how to manage your time effectively, but be realistic and flexible when you plan your schedule.
  • Do one thing at a time; concentrate on each task as it comes.
  • Take a break when your stressors compile to an uncontrollable level.
  • Ask for help if you feel that you are unable to deal with stress on your own.

How Can I Learn How to Relax?

In order to cope with stress, you need to learn how to relax. Relaxing is a learned skill -- it takes commitment and practice. Relaxation is more than sitting back and being quiet. Rather, it's an active process involving techniques that calm your body and mind. True relaxation requires becoming sensitive to your basic needs for peace, self-awareness, and thoughtful reflection. The challenge is being willing to meet these needs rather than dismissing them.

There are a number of methods you can use to relax, including:

  • Deep breathing: Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow exhalation, you should feel more relaxed.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quickly loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can. Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax (stop any movement that causes pain). Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. You should feel relaxed.
  • Mental imagery relaxation: Mental imagery relaxation, or guided imagery, is a proven form of focused relaxation that helps create harmony between the mind and body. Guided imagery coaches you in creating calm, peaceful images in your mind -- a "mental escape." Identify your self-talk, that is, what you are saying to yourself about what is going on with your illness or situation. It is important to identify negative self-talk and develop healthy, positive self-talk. By making affirmations, you can counteract negative thoughts and emotions.
  • Relax to music: Combine relaxation exercises with your favorite music. Select the type of music that lifts your mood or that you find soothing or calming. Some people find it easier to relax while listening to specially designed relaxation audio tapes, which provide music and relaxation instructions.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback helps a person learn stress-reduction skills by using various instruments to measure temperature, heart rate, muscle tension, and other vital signs as a person attempts to relax. The goal of biofeedback is to teach you to monitor your own body as you relax. It is used to gain control over certain bodily functions that cause tension and physical pain. If a headache, such as a migraine, begins slowly, many people can use biofeedback to stop the attack before it becomes full blown.

There are other stress management tools and some will be a better fit for you than others. Once you find a relaxation method that works for you, practice it every day with a goal of at least 30 minutes. Taking the time to practice simple relaxation techniques gives you the chance to unwind and get ready for life's next challenge.

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