Why do we always assume heart health is about eating low-fat or getting enough cardiovascular exercise? Get that out of your head! The problem is not always diet and exercise but the burden of stress that we pack around. Read further to find out how stress management can really help!
Let’s give the heart some love!
What is stress?
Stress involves many body functions, including neurological, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems. A stress trigger causes a temporary surge in hormones that increases heart rate and narrows blood vessels that increases your blood pressure, which can sometimes lead to an adverse effect on your cardiac health. This response is natural and has been essential for human survival.
The problem, however, is that the types of anxieties we experience today are not quickly resolved like the types of stress our prehistoric ancestors experienced – and it’s having an adverse effect on our health! So we are left with a stress hangover after frequent attacks on our stress system.
Examples of stressors of our human ancestors:
- Predator attacks (run!)
- Lack of shelter
- Inclement weather
- Social discord, power struggles
On the flip side, many modern-day stressors listed below are not life-threatening, thank goodness, but they aren’t easily managed either.
Common modern-day worries:
- Non-stop notifications, emails
- Paying stacks of bills
- Relationship problems
- Isolation, lack of social support
Which type is more burdensome: the primary stressors of our ancestors or the stressors we face today? Which model is worse for our health? Researchers are beginning to understand the connection between our thoughts and emotions and the long term effects on the body.
When you are emotionally distressed, your body produces hormones that can damage the walls of your arteries and lead to heart disease. Specifically, heart disease may be linked to specific health conditions related to stress, such as:
- Isolation from friends and family
Additionally, there is research investigating repeated stress induction and chronic high blood pressure. Still, we need more high-quality research studies to see if there is a secure connection.
Either way, there is enough of a reason to find a solution to the mismatch of modern pressure and our body’s intrinsic, built-in ability to manage it.
If we go back to the types of stressors as listed above, there is another way to make sense of it all. Imagine you are a Homo Sapien living 200,000 years ago. When you get hungry, you snack on some berries. A storm rolls in, so you shelter yourself under some thick brush. The choices you make have an immediate impact on your life.
The problem and finding a direct solution is what scientists call an Immediate-Return Environment because your actions deliver clear and quick outcomes.
Now on the flip side, imagine some of your modern-day stressors. You are sitting here thinking more about your stress exposure: your career, health, relationships, whatever it is. Maybe you start to ponder…
- If I retire now, will I be able to afford a comfortable lifestyle?
- Do I need to lose weight to be healthy? Will I ever be happy with my body?
- Will I be okay living in a different town than my family?
- Will my granddaughter get that scholarship?
Most of the choices you make will not affect you immediately. This type of stress is called Delayed-Return Environment. Many aspects of our lives will not benefit us in the present but delay rewards to some time in the future.
Unfortunately, living in a Delayed Return Environment tends to lead to chronic stress and anxiety for humans. Why? Because your brain wasn’t designed to solve the problems of a Delayed Return Environment.
What to Do About it
We are stuck in a Delayed-Return Environment that causes stress and anxiety, how can we fix this?
According to researcher and author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, there is a lot you can do! One idea that I resonated with is:
Shift your worry from a long-term problem to a daily routine!
Instead of worrying about your high blood pressure, focus on taking a short walk each day
Instead of focusing on losing weight, cook yourself a balanced dinner or read the F*ck it Diet by Caroline Dooner
Instead of worrying about your relationship problems, write a gratitude journal or book a couples counseling session
Instead of worrying about your bone health, try a weight-bearing exercise or restorative yoga class 1-2 per week.
Instead of panicking about your bank account, research side hustles to increase income or write out a budget with a savings plan
Shift your worry to ensure that your daily routine rewards you now (immediate-return environment), and resolves your future problems (delayed-return).
Stress and uncertainty are inherent in modern society and increases our risk of adverse health outcomes like heart disease and increases in blood pressure. Calm the mind by focusing on daily behaviors that reward you immediately and resolve long-term problems.
Your heart will thank you!
Here are two rituals that have helped me shift the worry in my life:
WRITING: I will notice that my inner critic is telling me I’m not good enough, “you need to work harder” or “why are you always avoiding your to-do list?” Instead of beating myself up, I will spend a couple of hours writing. Writing time is sometimes just an entry in my journal or something longer like the start to a blog article. It calms my inner critique by focusing on action and is benefiting my Nutrition & Wellness practice by captivating readers and increasing client referrals.
STRETCHING/YOGA: My body is always sore or achy somewhere. Instead of curling up in a ball on the sofa, although sometimes that is the perfect medicine, I will give my body some gentle movement. I will put on a slow or restorative yoga video (I love the Dutch yoga instructor Esther Eckhart!) or do some stretching to whatever feels right. Yoga has an instant reward of decreasing pain and simultaneously increasing my overall flexibility and ability to soothe my body.
I hope this information was helpful to you. If you still feel lost or want to learn more about heart health and unburdening your stress, join us at Ruby Health & Wellness for a free consultation. It is free to start exploring your wellness journey. Go to our website or call to set up a talk with one of our Registered Dietitians and wellness experts.