STRESS, ANXIETY, AND HEART HEALTH

Heart healthy living is not limited to food and exercise.

Although heart health is focused on bloodwork and hospital testing, heart care is not limited to food and exercise.  Managing stress and anxiety can play an important role in our attempt to maintain a healthy heart. (Hopkins Medicine) Covid 19 has been a doozy for increasing stress and anxiety,  and wreaking havoc on our emotional health.  Mental health has been a huge concern of many professionals throughout this last year due to the fear and isolation this virus has brought.  We were created for community and friendship: our physical heart can frequently bear the brunt of emotional strain. 

Our feelings and emotions can and do effect our heart health.

Many years ago I actually had a patient with the diagnosis of a “broken heart syndrome”.  The medical term for that is Takotsubo syndrome. My patient had a type of heart “attack” due to losing a loved one. 

Experiencing an occasional bout of significant stress or anxiety, especially during a year like 2020, is not unusual.  But if it is consistent, over several months, it may be helpful to see a physician.  There can be underlying medical issues which, if treated, could help (hormonal, cardiac, etc.).  There could also be health consequences from the stress, which need to be addressed. 

Seniors can experience anxiety and stress.

Although any of us can benefit from lowering our stress and anxiety, sometimes we mistake retired seniors as having a stress-less  life.  However, many seniors I have worked with have struggled with these same issues.  It is important to help them have choices, and feel in control of their health, as much as we can.  Loneliness and lack of understanding of the events or decisions going on around them may be scary. Many older seniors were not educated in helpful mental health techniques during their younger, more active adult hood.  Home health care providers can be a great resource to help them understand how to pursue appropriate care. We can encourage safe socialization, and we have the opportunity to provide wholistic health education leading to positive choices that can improve their physical and mental health.  

Positive Choices which Limit Stress and Anxiety, and Improve our Heart Health:  

Limit Caffeine.  Caffeine is a stimulant, and too much can elevate your heart rate, which can increase anxiety and temporarily raise your blood pressure. (healthline 2021)

Stay Hydrated. If you don’t drink enough water you can feel a bit lightheaded when you get up too quickly.  That feeling can contribute to your anxiety symptoms. Good hydration also leads to improved circulation and less heart strain.  (There are medical issues which may put limits on hydration-always follow your physician’s specific recommendations.)

Eat Healthy Foods in Healthy Amounts:  We all know it is important to eat healthy foods.  But when we are stressed or anxious, we can be tempted to not only eat the wrong type of food (comfort carbs, anyone?), but also over or under eat in amount.  Don’t give in to overeating to comfort, or under eating to feel control.  Junk food, carbs, high fats and sugars may contribute to energy highs and lows, and not eating enough can leave you feeling depleted, and take a toll on your stomach. (healthline) Both habits have negative effects on our health and well being.

Exercise Regularly. When we exercise, our bodies release chemicals that actually reduce our stress and anxiety, including endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.(WebMD) Exercise also leads to increased circulation, which improves our physical and cognitive status, and our energy level. Also, when we exercise regularly, we sleep better; who doesn’t feel better after they’ve had a good night’s sleep?

Practice Deep Breathing. Performing breathing exercises throughout the day is a great tool for keeping your shoulders relaxed, increasing oxygenation to your brain, and helping to keep your emotional status calm. Utilizing deep breathing during a stressful situation can be helpful as well: it can do all of the above, and distract your brain from the stressor or the anxiety. Prayer and music can be great additions to deep breathing, and positive words can erase and replace the negative thoughts. (affiliate link)

Distraction: Deep breathing exercise, when you concentrate on your actions and count through the breathing, can distract your brain from stress and anxiety.  Hobbies that relax you, joy-giving entertainment, and talking about a different subject can help in the moment.  Considering the struggles of another person can also be beneficial.  Volunteering actually has an endorphin release type of response similar to exercise. (Cole 2013)

Kind of makes you think we are made to care for others 🙂

Talking it Out. Distraction in the moment may be helpful, but at some point you may need to talk things through with a good friend, a wise coworker, or a professional. There are some great counselors, and methods/tools that you can learn to help with managing stress and anxiety.  Many work places, hospitals and churches have paid counselors on staff.  Like any other profession (physician, lawyer, etc), it may take some time to find the right professional for you, but it is worth the effort to improve your health!

Monitor or Modify your Stressors. Take the time to scrutinize your lifestyle and schedule, and discover the choices, activities, or events that may be causing your anxiety to increase.  Take the time to make some positive adjustments and get a plan in place to manage the stress.  Many of us, this year especially, have added work and family issues, financial, and personal stresses. Everyone struggles with something.  Do the best you can with what you have-to make positive healthy choices for yourself and your loved ones.   

What tips do you give to your parents or patients who are struggling with stress and anxiety? Subscribe to my blog for weekly emails on senior care and senior health.

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