The Other Kind of Heart Health
Now that we’ve covered the basics on cholesterol, inflammation, and healthy fats, another important factor in heart health is happiness. Studies show that people with anxiety and stress have a 26% higher risk of coronary heart disease and a 48% risk of heart related death even after addressing the other risk factors. I know…not the news anyone wants to read especially since so many people are walking around with chronic stress and anxiety thinking that their body can handle it. It can….until it can’t.
When we have chronic stress and anxiety, our body produces a hormone called cortisol. Outcomes from studies showed that those with consistently high levels of cortisol over a 6 year period were 5 times more likely to pass from a heart attack or stroke (which is also a cardiovascular event).
Flight of Fight
Cortisol is secreted in higher levels from the adrenal glands during the “flight or fight” response to stress. This can be triggered by a disagreement, a difficult discussion, pressure to perform at work under a tight deadline, multitasking, managing difficult relationship, to name a few. It can also be triggered when the body isn’t getting enough fuel, sleep and relaxation.
Your body is like an engine with many systems requiring certain elements to function properly. It needs nutrients, phytonutrients and vitamins from whole foods (not processed), water, and enough quality sleep to allow the body to clean and repair itself. The body is brilliant and very forgiving but like any engine, it will break down if it doesn’t get what it needs to function. You wouldn’t put paint in your car’s gas tank, would you?
Cortisol is a necessary reaction to a “fight or flight” stressful episode. In that moment, it allows you to manage pain, recall from memory, and it gives you a quick burst of energy for survival. However, your body needs to return to the relaxation state to allow for your bodies functions to return to normal. Staying in a stressful or anxious state doesn’t allow it to do that.
Make Happiness a Goal
Many clients that I begin working with firmly believe that they can’t do anything about their stress. “It’s just part of the my life” is what I often hear. I understand. I’ve lived it. The objective is not to look at stress management as an impossibility but a curiosity.
- What would my life be like if I wasn’t so worried and stressed?
- What if I had time to think, relax and enjoy?
Most people don’t add happiness to their annual or daily goal sheet. If you don’t, the likelihood that you’ll make time for it is small. Instead, in the morning before you start your day, consider what small action you can take that day to create happiness for yourself.
Practice this daily and notice what starts to happen for you. Eventually you may just develop some healthy habits beyond stress management to happiness. What’s the alternative?