Stressed? So Is Your Heart

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Learning how to manage stress benefits more than mental health.

This year has been hard for so many reasons, even if you haven’t lost a job, seen a loved one get sick or had to juggle working from home at the dining room table next to your kids taking classes online. But with so many reasons to feel stressed and the holidays right around the corner, it’s even more important to learn how to deal with your stress in a healthy manner.

“Although further research is needed to determine exactly how stress contributes to heart disease, we do know it can affect behaviors and factors that increase the risk of heart disease,” said Pranav Diwan, MD, FACC, FSCAI, interventional cardiologist at Archbold Medical Center and Cardiovascular Consultants of South Georgia. “These factors include high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.”

Time to Quit

One of the healthiest things you can do for your heart (and every other organ) is to quit smoking, even though every cigarette may feel like a tiny stress release.

“You may think you’re managing chronic stress, but smoking can actually increase blood pressure and cause cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Diwan said.

If quitting cold turkey doesn’t work, a physician can recommend nicotine replacement therapy or prescribe medication that will help you quit.

Work it Out

It’s no secret that exercise is good for your heart, but it’s also a great way to manage stress. Dr. Diwan recommended exercising at least five days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes.

“When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to skip workouts,” Dr. Diwan said. “But even a little activity is beneficial.”

If you aren’t comfortable going to a gym during the pandemic, it’s easy to find free or low-cost workouts online. And don’t forget about simply going outside.

“With the weather cooling down in the next few months, walking outdoors is an excellent way to manage stress and take hold of your heart health,” Dr. Diwan said.

Skip the Comfort Food

During stressful times, it can be tempting to comfort yourself with your favorite foods, no matter the calorie content. But eating healthier will actually give you the nutrients you need to help stay healthy and energized. Dr. Diwan advised sticking with the basics: Eat more vegetables and fruits, stick to fiber-rich whole grains, and opt for lean sources of protein, such as chicken, fish and beans, over red meat, which is high in heart-damaging saturated fat. Also, he added, skip foods high in trans fat and sugar.

Stay Calm and Sleep On

Learning meditation or other relaxation techniques can help train your brain to process stress differently. It can also help you sleep more restfully, and more sleep equals less stress on your heart.

“Take time every day to decompress. Even a few minutes count,” Dr. Diwan said. “You may also want to try making your daily schedule more manageable, prioritizing what’s most important and allowing yourself grace when you can’t complete all tasks.”

Know the Signs of a Heart Attack

If stress feels overwhelming and you feel like you can’t breathe, you could be experiencing a panic attack. Talking with a therapist or pursuing other forms of stress reduction can help.

However, chest tightness could also signify a heart attack. Dr. Diwan said people should seek urgent medical attention or consider seeing a cardiologist if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing on exertion
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Pressure, squeezing, pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw
  • Rapid or irregular pulse
  • Unexplained weakness or fatigue

If you need help establishing heart healthy habits, Cardiovascular Consultants of South Georgia is here to help. Call 229.279.6972 today to make an appointment.


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