Stress: It’s a Matter of the Heart

You might be surprised to learn that heart disease is the number one killer of women in North America. Part of this can probably be attributed to the fact that it’s hard to know when our hearts aren’t healthy because we cannot see them. When we’ve gained too much weight we see it in our thighs. We are reminded to check our breasts by the fact that we see them every day. But our hearts? Often we forget to take proper care of them because they’re out of sight and out of mind.

Given the dangers of heart disease, women have to get a handle on what can cause it, and how to help keep these causes at bay. Heart disease is caused by a number of factors, many of which we cannot control. One of these factors is the accumulation of stress that comes with everyday life. While we can’t necessarily control all the stressors in our lives (financial problems, horrible bosses, teenagers), we do have a certain amount of control over how we let them affect us and by extension, our heart health.  Learning to manage stress is key if you’re wondering how to prevent heart disease in women.

We are all affected by stress in different ways, and we all cope differently with stress. What works for you might not work for your best friend; I think yoga is probably the most boring thing in the world, but many of my friends have had it change their lives. I put together a list of tips that have been known to help people manage their stress. Using some of these techniques can help you control how much you’re affected by the stress in your life and could help keep your heart healthy (and sanity in check)!

Don’t Overindulge in Food and Alcohol: Don’t deal with stress by turning to food and alcohol. Over eating, under eating, and excessive alcohol consumption only band-aid the bigger problem. Coping by using food and alcohol will only lead to additional issues on top of the primary stressor.

Say No: Many women take on more than they can handle. Even women who work the same hours as their husbands have been shown to contribute more than 70% to the household duties. Adding kids’ schedules into the mix, as well as the expectations of friends and extended family can lead anyone to a nervous breakdown. Go through your commitments to distinguish between the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘musts.’ Cut down what’s on your plate so you can deal with your obligations properly without going insane.

Stop Smoking: Beyond the obvious impacts lighting up has on your health, the nicotine in cigarettes works as a stimulant that directly induces symptoms of stress.

Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise has direct links to maintaining a healthy heart, but it is the endorphins it releases that combat stress. They make you feel better immediately, and help you maintain a positive attitude. If you hate the elliptical, look for other ways to get exercise. Join an amateur soccer or basketball league in your neighborhood (most places have one), or sign up for a dance class or running group.

Evaluate: Figure out what it is in your life that is causing you stress, and then accept those things that you cannot control. Distinguishing between problems that are in and out of your hands helps you determine what’s really worth worrying about. Be realistic and flexible about issues that are beyond your control, and have a plan for what to do if things don’t go your way. Most of the time, these things aren’t the end of the world.

Get Sufficient Sleep: Many people can’t sleep because they’re stressed, and many people are stressed because they can’t sleep. Make sure that you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep a night. Make sure your bedroom is dark and comfortable, and use your bed for nothing but sleep and sex. Get the TV out of the bedroom, and avoid screen-time an hour before bed. If you consistently have trouble sleeping, try femMED Sleep as a sleep-aid. However you make it happen, make sure you give your body enough time to recharge!

Make the Cut: Avoid people in your life who stress you out. Obviously your mother-in-law is here to stay, but the ‘frenemies’ who do more harm than good aren’t worth sacrificing your health for.

In the same line of thinking, avoid topics of conversation that cause you stress. If religion or politics get you riled up, avoid the topic, or at least put it aside until your head is in the right place.

Incorporate Music: Many people find listening to music a good way to relax and escape from the pressures of stress. Whether you listen to music directly made to combat stress, such as nature sounds, or Beyoncé is more your thing, take time to let it calm you down next time you’re stuck in traffic or getting ready for a meeting that you’re anxious about attending.

Yoga/Meditation: Yoga and meditation help people check out from the fast-pace of everyday life. Taking the time to relax and appreciate your body and mind can for some people alleviate stress entirely. Make sure you go to at least five classes before deciding whether or not this is for you, as it is a practice that takes a bit of getting used to.

Get a pet: People who own pets are consistently shown to exhibit fewer signs of stress, and fewer health problems in general. Pets serve as great companions, and can calm your nerves at the worst of times. If you don’t have the time or money for a dog or cat, visit a friend who has one for a quick fix of puppy love!

Do Volunteer Work: Evidence shows that people who help others are more adept at coping with stressors. Helping people who are worse off than yourself will help you put your problems into perspective, and will also leave you feeling good about yourself.

Take a Vitamin: Make sure that you’re getting enough nutrients, especially vitamin B. Vitamin B is the master of the nervous system, and taking a supplement can help calm your nerves.

Get Lucky: Sex has been proven to reduce stress and stress symptoms. On top of that, it can be great exercise and can help you sleep (thus covering two other things from this list)!

Make Work More Comfortable: If you spend a lot of time at the office and your job causes you stress, try and bring some comforts into your work environment. Bring a picture of your family and your favourite mug from home. Scents such as basil and chamomile are all soothing. Keep a jar of some of these oils in a drawer to breathe in if you’re feeling overwhelmed. These sound trivial, but it’s the little things that help!

Give Yourself a Break: Everyone has commitments that stop them from taking care of themselves. If you have a huge project at work and don’t have time to make it to the gym or cook a good meal once in a while, that’s ok. During this time, make sure you’re treating yourself properly. Get up every half an hour and take a five minute walk. If your husband is driving you insane, book a dinner with your girlfriends to unwind. When your kids are causing you headaches, ask someone to look after them for the weekend and try and spend the weekend away. You can’t take care of all these things in your life if you don’t take care of yourself.

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