You may feel stressed out when you perceive that a particular situation, event or person poses a challenge or threat to your well-being. Your body's stress response can involve changes in emotions and behaviors as well as physical symptoms.
When the body perceives stress, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, or the body's "fight or flight" response. This causes a chain reaction of events to occur in the body, including the release of stress hormones into the blood stream, increased heart rate and blood pressure, changes in blood flow, diminished immune functioning and changes in digestion.
The cardiovascular system takes a hit every time the stress response is activated. Therefore, chronic or repeated stress can lead to cardiac and vascular damage. Specifically, chronic stress appears to lead to the development of coronary artery disease and it may also trigger acute cardiac events.
People try to cope with stress by engaging in behaviors that comfort them. Some individuals engage in healthy behaviors, such as going for a walk, talking with a friend or relying on their religious faith. Others turn to unhealthy behaviors during stress, such as smoking, binge eating or increased alcohol consumption. Therefore, an individual's behavioral response to stress not only impacts emotions, but also can impact physical and cardiac health.
To improve the quality of your life, enhance emotional functioning and protect your cardiac and vascular health, try to reduce the amount of avoidable stress in your life and practice healthy ways to cope with the inevitable.
To reduce your stress levels:
- Identify the situations and people that trigger your stress and try to limit your exposure to them when possible.
- Make sure that your expectations are realistic so that you are not easily disappointed or upset by the outcome of situations or events.
- Take time out for yourself every day.
- Engage in behaviors that will calm you emotionally and reduce the physiological impact of stress on your body. This could be done through almost anything that you enjoy, including exercise, yoga, massage, reading, prayer, cooking or watching television.
- Be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish.
- Prioritize your commitments and do not be afraid to say no or turn down invitations so that you can protect time for the things that matter most to you.
- Make yourself a priority.
- Identify your support network and reach out to those supportive people.
- Learn to communicate effectively with others.
- Take care of yourself: protect your sleep, watch what you eat, moderate alcohol consumption and remain physically active.
- Laugh more often.