by Dr. Suzanne R. Steinbaum, a cardiologist and Director of Women and Heart Disease, The Heart and Vascular Institute, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City.
We all know that feeling, that “stressed out” emotion of being ten minutes late, caught in traffic and having at least 10 million things to do. That response, when your heart is pounding and you feel on edge is also known as the “fight or flight response.” Technically, it is the body’s natural response to stress. In evolutionary theory, this response might protect us from a dangerous predator found in the wild, but in the 21st century it translates only to a physiological stress response. This reaction releases hormones into the body which increase your heart rate and your blood pressure in addition to causing inflammation, blood clotting and the constriction of blood vessels. Stress can even lead to weight gain and, in some people, obesity.
Over time, these stress-related hormones can take their toll on the body’s internal organs. Stress also has a significant impact on the cardiovascular system. With the release of cortisol, there is an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, a constriction of blood vessels and an increase in blood sugar. There is also an increase in Cytokines which are inflammatory components that lead to the increase of blockages in the arteries which in some people can increase the risk of a heart attack.
Today, there is so much pressure on women. They are juggling many different aspects of life and taking on many more roles than they did in the past. Sometimes the pressure to “do it all” is overwhelming and creates an incredible amount of stress which really needs to be diffused. Stress management can take the form of:
and is extremely important to prevent these potentially devastating outcomes. It doesn’t matter which method of relaxation you choose, just choose at least one! Remind yourself that it is important to:
- Maintain a good perspective
- Make sure you take time for yourself every day
- Pay attention to your body and how it feels, and know that it could be life saving to take the time to slow down, relax and take a deep breath
When someone says “You looked stressed out,” it is simply the visible manifestation of the stress response acting on the entire body. It is worth taking a look at, even if the first look is in the mirror.