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Struggling with stress

By Meranda Schmitz

Throughout February, we’ve looked at how you can improve your heart health by getting enough exercise, controlling high blood pressure, and eating a heart healthy diet. Stress is another major factor that influences our heart health.  

Stress is your body’s response to a physical or psychological trigger that you perceive as challenging or threatening. In broad terms, stress is any change you have to adapt to. The stress response is an adaptation that prepares your body to deal with a challenge or threat, and it begins in your brain.

What is your body’s response to stress?

  1. When you encounter a stressor, your brain increases its production of cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” One of cortisol’s main functions is to increase your energy levels so you can deal with a stressful situation. It does this by helping to move sugars stored in your liver into your bloodstream, where the sugars can be used as energy.
  2. Another part of your brain signals for the increased production of the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. This part of the stress response is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. Increases in these hormones prepare your body to deal with a stressful situation by:
    • raising your heart rate and blood pressure;
    • increasing your breathing rate;
    • increasing blood flow to your muscles;
    • decreasing digestion; and
    • boosting your energy supplies.

How does this affect your heart?

When stress becomes chronic (long-lasting or ongoing), it can lead to high blood pressure, increased difficulty managing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, or even death.

How to manage stress and protect your heart

  • Do something you enjoy, such as listening to music or dancing, reading a book, watching a favorite movie or TV show, or pursuing a hobby.
  • Connect with others: Spending time with supportive family and friends can help you decompress. It can also provide you with support when you’re going through a particularly stressful period.
  • Seek help when necessary: If you’re struggling to cope with a stressful situation or event, it may be beneficial to engage with a mental health professional, support group, or online therapist. Ask your healthcare provider for some recommendations.

Meranda Schmitz, RN, helped establish the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation program at CHCS. She has been a nurse for 25 years and lives in Westmoreland with her husband and son. Her favorite thing about working with Cardiopulmonary Rehab patients is helping them make progress and meet their goals. Want to learn more about available programs? Reach Meranda at [email protected] or 785-889-5502.




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