A month to change your heart: Day 12

Chronic stress, anger, hostility, feeling isolated and alone, an unhappy relationship, a negative outlook, and feeling out of control are all strongly associated with cardiovascular disease.

 All of these emotions can trigger the “flight or fight” response, which is our body’s physical preparation, in the face of a stressor, to stand ground or run.  Our bodies react in several ways that are good for an emergency, but bad over time.  Adrenal glands churn out a stress chemical called adrenaline into the blood stream that increases heart beat, in case running is required.    This can also cause uncomfortable palpitations, and a feeling of panic.

That’s just the start.  The flight or fight response can make blood pressure  go up, muscles begin to tense, blood becomes thicker and will clot more easily, getting ready for possible injury.  Blood vessels begin to constrict, so you will not lose as much blood if you are injured.  It’s a great defensive system if you need to jump out of the way of a speeding car.  But, it doesn’t help you deal with a traffic jam or trouble at work.

Taking the time to identify and acknowledge your triggers is the first step to making a change.  Observe what makes you angry or anxious, and practice waiting a couple of seconds before reacting.  Then, try taking a couple of deep, cleansing breaths.  This helps with milder symptoms, but consider seeking professional treatment for  depression, severe anxiety and anger management.

Exercise can be a way of fleeing from stress, as it lowers blood pressure, relaxes blood vessels, and disperses stress hormones.  Yoga, tai-chi, and meditation, as we’ll discuss next week, also help.

On the twelfth day of Change of Heart, my doctor said to me:

  1. The flight or fight response to stress is an important physiologic way to deal with impending danger.  But over time, if this is your reaction to routine stress, it can damage the heart. 
  2. Exercise is a good way to deal with this response, as it counteracts the hormonal response of your body to stress
  3. Other ways of doing this include tai chi, yoga, and meditation

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