by Ilyse Streim, Massage Therapist, Center for Integrative Medicine at Good Samaritan
February is American Heart Month! I know what you’re thinking…”here comes the long list of things I should be doing to prevent heart disease and I feel stressed just thinking about it!” Perfect! Learning about stress is a great place to begin our understanding of heart health.
Excerpts from the American Heart Association website:
Stress and Your Heart
More research is needed to determine how stress contributes to heart disease. But stress may affect behaviors and factors that increase heart disease risk: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.
A stressful situation sets off a chain of events. Your body releases adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. These reactions prepare you to deal with the situation — the “fight or flight” response. When stress is constant, your body remains in high gear off and on for days or weeks at a time. Although the link between stress and heart disease isn’t clear, chronic stress may cause some people to drink too much alcohol, which can increase your blood pressure and may damage the artery walls.
Can managing stress reduce or prevent heart disease?
Managing stress is a good idea for your overall health, and researchers are currently studying whether managing stress is effective for heart disease. Studies using psychosocial therapies – involving both psychological and social aspects – are promising in the prevention of second heart attacks. After a heart attack or stroke, people who feel depressed, anxious or overwhelmed by stress should talk to their doctor or other healthcare professionals.
What can you do about stress?
Exercising, maintaining a positive attitude, not smoking, not drinking too much coffee, enjoying a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are good ways to deal with stress. Medicines are helpful for many things, but usually not for stress. Some people take tranquilizers to calm them down immediately, but it’s far better in the long term to learn to manage your stress through relaxation or stress management techniques. Be careful not to confuse stress with anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety, speak with your doctor about a treatment or management plan.
Integrative Medicine and stress reduction
Here at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Good Samaritan Medical Center, we are dedicated to assisting our clients in taking greater responsibility for their own health. We integrate rich, healing traditions with the latest in preventive care to help people find balance in mind, body and spirit. We are available to community members, patients, employees, nurses, physicians, and volunteers. Our comprehensive services include:
Therapeutic and oncology massage
Pre and post-natal massage
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Massage and stress reduction
Receiving regular massage is a wonderful way to help manage stress. Massage can help decrease anxiety, enhance sleep quality, increase energy, improve concentration, and reduce fatigue. Clients often report a sense of perspective and clarity after receiving a massage. The emotional balance bodywork provides can often be just as vital and valuable as the more tangible physical benefits. Massage is a wonderful mental and physical ‘re-set’ that can help you get back on track with healthy life choices.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Mindfulness is a way of intentionally paying attention to the present moment, allowing for greater coping, growing and healing. An 8-week MBSR course will be taught by Ben Gaibel, LCSW, at the Center for Integrative Medicine from March 31-May 19. The course is designed to transform your relationship with stress and improve your overall wellbeing. It will include guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practice, gentle stretching, and mindful yoga. To register or for more information call 303-673-1620.
This is a loaded topic for many people who use food to help cope with stress. If you struggle with your weight, focus on self-compassion as the first step. The book The Self-Compassion Diet by Jean Fain is an excellent resource to help you on the path to behavior change. Seek support from our nutritionists at The Center for Integrative Medicine. They are here to help you with meal planning and food awareness in a supportive, nonjudgmental way.
And finally, here is an American Heart Association list of 10 positive healthy habits that can protect you from the harmful effects of stress. You can do it! Just pick one of the positive habits to incorporate into your life and call on the practitioners at the Center for Integrative Medicine for support and encouragement.
- Talk with family and friends
A daily dose of friendship is great medicine. Call or write friends and family to share your feelings, hopes and joys and ask them to share theirs.
- Engage in daily physical activity
Regular physical activity can relieve mental and physical tension. Physically active adults have lower risk of depression and loss of mental functioning. Physical activity can be a great source of pleasure, too. Try walking, swimming, biking or dancing every day.
- Embrace the things you are able to change
While we may not be able to do some of the things we once enjoyed, we are never too old to learn a new skill, work toward a goal, or love and help others.
- Remember to laugh
Laughter makes us feel good. Don’t be afraid to laugh out loud at a joke, a funny movie or a comic strip, even when we’re alone.
- Give up the bad habits
Too much alcohol, cigarettes or caffeine can increase blood pressure. If you smoke, decide to quit now. If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
- Slow down
Try to “pace” instead of “race.” Plan ahead and allow enough time to get the most important things done without having to rush.
- Get enough sleep
Try to get six to eight hours of sleep each night. If you can’t sleep, take steps to help reduce stress and depression. Physical activity also may improve the quality of sleep.
- Get organized
Use “to do” lists to help you focus on your most important tasks. Approach big tasks one step at a time. For example, start by organizing just one part of your life—your car, desk, kitchen, closet, cupboard or drawer.
- Practice giving back
Volunteer your time or spend time helping out a friend. Helping others helps you.
- Try not to worry
The world won’t end if your grass isn’t mowed or your kitchen isn’t cleaned. You may need to do these things, but right now might not be the right time.