Sunday , July 21 2024

STRESS – The Elephant in the Room

elephant in the roomIn my day to day life as a cardiologist, I spend a great deal of my time meeting with patients, discussing with them their symptoms, examining the physical body, running tests, and digesting a great deal of information, all for the purpose of coming to an accurate diagnosis, and moving forward with ap-propriate recommendations for management of the cardio-vascular needs of the patient at hand.  In each interview with a new patient, we establish the basics—you know, those questions you’ve heard your doctor ask over and over—what are your symptoms, which diseases and surgeries make up your medical history, do you smoke, what are your allergies and medications.  One question doctors often never ask is, “How is your stress?”  Your doctor will ask you about whether you are having chest pain or shortness of breath, but will rarely stop to ask you if you are happy, whether you are at peace in your heart, or whether you’ve been anxious or worried about things.
In actuality, these questions are often the proverbial “elephant in the room”—the unacknowledged huge deal.  Most people are unaware that the emotional state of a person plays a considerable contributory role in the health and wellbeing of the physical body.  In my work as a cardiologist, I do my best to help my patients understand the role their own personal emotional health plays in the overall health of their bodies.  Unless a person understands that their stress levels are directly affecting their health, they often do not feel motivated about doing something to improve the quality of their emotional wellbeing.
What most patients don’t realize is this—your stress and your emotional health contributes significantly to your overall cardiovascular health.  In actuality, studies show that there are countless ways in which emotional stressors affect the cardiovascular system.  For example, it has been long known that the “Type A,” hard-driving personality is often a risk factor for heart attacks.  Recent studies have shown that long-standing anger may make a person more likely to have a stroke.   Stress has been shown to increase rates of heart attacks, strokes, arrhythmias, and elevate blood pressure.  Chronic stress is known to be related to increased markers of inflammation in the body and slow down wound healing.  Depressed patients, not only seem to have heart disease at higher rates than their counterparts, but they also appear to respond less to treatments than others who may not be depressed.
More and more, doctors and patients are coming to learn how important a role that managing stress is as a means to managing overall health.
When talking with patients, I often find that they believe that as long as the unpleasant things are occurring in their daily life, they have no choice but to be stressed about them.  But, the reality is that stress is not about what is happening to you—it is about how you are responding to what is happening to you.  It is a rare person who has no unpleasant or upsetting things in their day-to-day life, so, to wait for life to be free of stressors is not realistic.  The solution is to find ways to minimize your response to the stressors, to find ways to be happy anyway.on the beach?  Play with your grand kids?  Find out what it is in your life that makes your heart sing and find the time to do it!
• Make time for gratitude.  Make an effort to focus on the positive aspects of your life experience.  Keep a journal of what you are thankful for and of the great things that make your life happy.  Focusing on the good somehow always makes more good stuff appear.
• Get a good night’s sleep.  It will surprise you how important a good night’s sleep is to your overall physical and emotional health.  Getting a good night’s rest can help lower blood pressure and improve your mental focus.
• Stay physically active.  Exercise has long been shown to improve mood and mental focus.  A daily dose of exercise will go a long way in to helping quiet a restless mind and improve mental focus.
• Take up yoga.  Yoga is an excellent practice for quieting the mind while having the added benefit of improving the physical health of the body.  Yoga practitioners often find that, following a yoga session, they have a sense of improved relaxation and a calmer and quieter mind.
• Learn to meditate.  Meditation is a practice where one learns to purposefully still and quiet the mind.  Regular meditators can tell you that meditation instills a sense of mental clarity and wellbeing, significantly reducing symptoms of anxiety or worry.  As an added benefit, meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure in regular practitioners.
The benefits of managing your stress are numerous.  As a cardiologist, I can tell you that stress plays a huge role in the diseases I manage in my practice, including heart attacks, heart failure, high blood pressure, and arrhythmias.  I encourage you to seek out ways that you can lower your stress, live a happier life, and reduce your cardiovascular risk as well!
Dr. Vallabhan
Rolling Oaks Professional Park
929 N. Highway 441, Suite 201
Lady Lake, FL 32159

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