The holidays are upon us. In addition to festive celebrations and time with family and friends, the season has the tendency to usher in more traffic on the roadways, unmet expectations, memories of those who are no longer with us, overbooked schedules, and long lines in stores – all of which can induce anxiety, stress and depression in even the most even-tempered among us.
The heart is often thought of as a symbol of our emotions. In recent years, scientists have uncovered a clear link between emotions and heart health, identifying that depression or anxiety may make it more likely for you to experience a heart attack or heart failure in the future. In particular, researchers have found that anxiety can increase the body's level of stress hormones, which elevate blood pressure. People with chronic anxiety are therefore more likely to develop high blood pressure, and people with high blood pressure are more likely to be anxious.
Stress and Your Heart
According to professionals from the Barnabas Health Heart Centers, emotional stress causes a negative chain reaction within your body. If you're angry, anxious, tense, frustrated, frightened, or depressed, your body's natural response is to release stress hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. They prepare your body to deal with stress and cause your heart to beat more rapidly and your blood vessels to narrow to help push blood to the center of the body. The hormones also increase your blood pressure. This "fight or flight" response is thought to date back to prehistoric times, when we needed an extra burst of adrenaline to escape predators.
After your stress subsides, your blood pressure and heart rate should return to normal. If you're continually stressed out, though, your body doesn't have a chance to recover and this may damage your artery walls.
Stress's link to high blood pressure and inflammation is dangerous because both are known risk factors for heart disease and other heart problems. Although studies haven't proved that stress alone causes heart disease, it clearly poses an indirect risk and also negatively affects your general wellness.
Stress and Your Reactions
You can manage stress in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Utilizing productive strategies to get your stress under control allows you to better protect yourself against heart disease. While we can't escape all the pressures the holidays may bring, Barnabas Health Heart Centers offer these suggestions to help ease the strain of the season:
- Exercise. When you are anxious and tense, exercise is a great way to burn off all that excess energy and stress. Go for a walk, a bike ride or go to the gym for your favorite class.
- Maintain a nutritious, well-balanced diet. Avoid overeating and excessive alcohol consumption.
- Breathe deeply. Yoga is not only good for your body, but for your mind, too. The meditative, deep breathing done in yoga is calming and relieves stress, especially if you do it regularly.
- Take a break. When your stress level rises, take a few minutes to escape your surroundings. Spend a few quiet moments alone, read a short story or listen to your favorite music. Cultivate gratitude. Make a list of what you're grateful for in your life to focus on the positives.
- Recognize that daily routines change, especially during this time of year. During the holidays when things become more hectic, allow yourself more time to accomplish daily tasks. Worrying about getting everything done can be as stressful as actually doing it. And remember, the holidays will end and a normal routine will resume.
- Keep your expectations reasonable. The holidays do not have the power to magically turn sadness into joy. Don't be disappointed if the holidays are not like they used to be. Life brings changes. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way.
If you're struggling to cope this holiday season, the Barnabas Health Behavioral Health Network offers clients the assistance they need to adapt to current challenges. Whether through intensive inpatient programs or structured outpatient services, its programs are based on sound clinical protocols and a network of unparalleled expertise in every area of behavioral health. For a referral to a Barnabas Health mental health professional, call 800-300-0628.
About Barnabas Health Heart Centers – Life is Better Heart Healthy
Barnabas Health's expansive network of cardiac services and facilities offers all the advantages of a single, multi-center program, with convenient access to consultation, testing, follow-up care and rehabilitation. Our award-winning Heart Centers are nationally recognized. We offer adult and pediatric cardiovascular programs throughout New Jersey. Our emergency department provides treatment and diagnosis of heart attack and other cardiac conditions. Barnabas Health's cardiac surgeons perform minimally invasive valve and bypass surgeries, and complex open-heart surgery. Our heart transplant program is the third largest in the nation.
Our Heart Centers act as a model for today's most progressive cardiac programs, bringing together an extensive team of experienced heart specialists with a full complement of clinical resources. Our patient-centered philosophy continues to guide our ambition to improve the heart health of New Jersey residents.
For more information and location details, visit barnabashealth.org/heartcenters.