Stress is the body’s instinctive response to the perception of a threat. It also is a risk factor for heart disease. When we sense danger, our adrenal glands spring into action, and release a flood of hormones, including adrenalin and cortisol, into the bloodstream.
These hormones quicken the heartbeat and raise blood pressure, pumping additional blood to our arms and legs. That’s why this is called the “fight-or-flight” response — because that added burst of blood gives us the temporary strength to either fight or flee.
Unfortunately, cortisol also fuels inflammation, a process that sets the stage for coronary artery disease. Our bodies respond the same way to stress if it is temporary or chronic. For instance, whether we are faced with real sudden danger, such as having to swerve to avoid a car accident, or an ongoing stress, like staying awake all night worrying about unpaid bills, the effect on the body is largely the same.
So if you are under stress, you have to do something to alleviate it. If your job is the problem, think strongly about making a change. But if you can’t get rid of the source of your stress, you can do other things to make your lifestyle as heart-healthy as possible. You can:
• Eat healthy foods
• Schedule frequent work breaks
• Learn to relax
Personally, I have found that prayer and belonging to my religious community help me deal with the stresses I encounter; you might find that comforting as well.
Remember, stress kills people every day — and the kind of stress doesn’t matter.