Patient guide to addressing stress
Here are some tips from the Lown Cardiovascular Center on how to reduce stress in easy, enjoyable ways that don't take much time or cost money.
1 Physical activity
Physical activity is good for your heart and helps reduce stress. Everyone, especially people with heart disease, benefits from regular physical activity: walking, swimming, even gardening or dancing.
- If you have trouble finding time to exercise, remind yourself that physical energy promotes mental energy, and that by taking care of yourself you'll be better able to meet the needs of those around you.
- Choose an activity you enjoy, start slow, and stay with it.
- Combining physical activity and social activities, or pairing with another person, can help you stay motivated.
- Discuss any concerns about increasing your activity with your cardiologist, who will help you determine what's right for you.
Pay attention to what you're eating when you're stressed. Curb any cravings for salt, sweets, caffeine, or fast food, which simply increase feelings of fatigue or guilt. Instead, choose fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Talk to your cardiologist about how to cut down on salt.
- Start your day with a simple, nutritious breakfast.
- Take time to prepare and enjoy a healthy meal of foods that are local and fresh. Eating at home saves money too!
Stress can adversely affect sleep. Being well rested helps people cope better and promotes healing.
- Instead of staying up until you feel tired, establish a sleeping schedule based on when you typically wake up. Working backwards, plan 7 hours to sleep plus 30 minutes to fall asleep.
- Consider reducing your caffeine intake and keep in mind that alcohol impairs sleep quality.
4 Don't neglect your health
More than half of American families report postponing physician visits or not filling prescriptions to save on health care costs. Consider your health your most valuable investment.
- Instead of postponing medical appointments, make the most of them by writing down questions beforehand, and ask whether less expensive drugs are available.
- If you are concerned that stress may be affecting your health, talk with your Lown physician. You may benefit from a referral to a therapist to help identify stressors and strengthen skills for handling them.
5 Social support
Being alone or lonely may exacerbate cardiac and other risk factors. A sense of companionship enhances not only longevity but also quality of life.
- Spend time with friends or participate in community activities.
- Providing support is as healthy as seeking it. Try "random acts of kindness" as an antidote to stress.
6 Find what's right for you
Incorporate stress reduction into every day. Be creative! Here are more ideas from Lown Center physicians:
- Take five: "I encourage my patients to take just five minutes a day and do something they enjoy," counsels Dr. Fred Mamuya.
- Meditation: "Research has shown that simple meditation techniques can change how people respond to stress," notes Dr. Craig Vinch. How to start? Close your eyes and focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale, or visualize yourself in a peaceful setting for a few minutes.
- Dance: "I tell some patients to pull down the shades, turn up the music, and dance," reports Dr. Brian Bilchik.
- Down time: "Take a vacation! It's obvious, but sometimes people overlook it," recommends Dr. Vikas Saini.
Article adapted from the Lown Forum (2009, #2).
[The Lown Cardiovascular Center promotes a patient-centered, noninvasive model of cardiovascular care that emphasizes prevention with a strong dose of compassion and trust between doctor and patient. The Lown Center evaluates and cares for patients with all types of cardiovascular conditions and diseases, from hypertension and high cholesterol to those with coronary artery disease and congenital heart diseases. The Lown Cardiovascular Center has achieved worldwide recognition in managing disturbances of heart rhythm, and in providing second and even third opinions on the need for heart catheterization, angioplasty, or surgery. Learn more at www.lowncenter.org.]
Date Posted: 20 May 2009