Stress is necessary to live. It’s our evolutionary fight-or-flight response that increases our chance of survival. But when day-to-day stress becomes excessive or chronic, the risk of severe heart problems multiplies. Read on to find out how you can better manage the stress of living in the modern world!
Can AFib be caused by stress?
If you have AFib, chronic stress can increase the severity of your symptoms by interfering with sleep quality, elevating blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart palpitations, and reducing your motivation to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Find your calm — and achieve your 100 Year Heart — with these stress-busting tips.
Stress-busting tips for a healthy heart
Alternate nostril breathing
Have you ever noticed how your breathing changes when you feel relaxed? You naturally breathe through the nose in a slow, even, gentle fashion. Here’s why. Deep breaths send a message to your brain, telling it to calm down and relax. In response, your brain sends the same message back to your body. Stress, on the other hand, causes you to breathe faster. This increases heart rate and raises blood pressure.
Alternate nostril breathing is based on an ancient yogic technique called pranayama. It helps calm the body through distraction and a sense of control. Research from IJoy-International Journal of Yoga suggests that pranayama breathing techniques have the potential to reduce cardiovascular disease and stress— improving long-term health outcomes.
Alternate-nostril breathing technique:
- Sit quietly
- Lift your right hand up to your nose.
- Bend your forefinger and middle finger down, out of the way.
- Place your thumb on your right nostril.
- Inhale slowly through your left nostril and hold.
- Release your right nostril and put your ring finger on the left nostril.
- Exhale through your right nostril completely. Inhale through the right nostril and hold.
- Release your left nostril and put your thumb on your right nostril.
- Exhale through your left nostril completely. Inhale through the left nostril and hold.
- Repeat the full process about three times.
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to balance and control the fight-or-flight response felt during stress. And the best thing about deep breathing — you can practice it anywhere and anytime you feel stressed.
Meditate when walking
It seems that meditating while walking has an even bigger stress-busting impact than walking alone, according to a 16-week, 135-person study from North Dakota University. The volunteers were divided into five groups. Some groups meditated while they walked; other groups did not meditate.
Those who meditated simply counted “one, two, one, two” as they walked. The meditation made them focus on their steps instead of thinking about other issues. Regardless of how fast they walked, the groups who meditated experienced a more significant reduction of stress and better mood than those who didn’t meditate.
Play your favorite music
A study published in the European Heart Journal looked at music and cardiovascular health. This study and other research prove that listening to certain types of music can evoke emotions and mood, changing heart activity, blood pressure, and breathing.
Music can alter brain chemistry in a way that may help improve cardiovascular health. In fact, according to Brian Harris, certified neurologic music therapist for Harvard Health, no other stimulus on earth affects the brain as much as music does.
More research conducted by trained music therapists suggests that listening to music may reduce stress in patients with coronary heart disease, primarily those who have experienced a myocardial infarction. It seems that the anxiety-reducing effects of music are best when people choose their favorite tunes. Though their finds may be somewhat biased, the music therapists also found that listening to music positively affects blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rate, and sleep quality in those with coronary heart disease.
Take a nap
Napping can help reset your emotions. Taking a short 20-minute nap can reduce cortisol levels — helping reduce stress. But what’s even more interesting, napping has positive effects on heart health.
A study appearing in the journal Heart followed almost 3,500 people with no history of cardiovascular disease for five or more years. Data revealed that those who napped one to two times a week had a 48 percent less chance of experiencing heart problems than those who didn’t nap at all.
Move your body
When it comes to stress and heart health, exercise is a must. Getting active, whether going for a walk, hitting the gym, or playing tennis, releases endorphins — the mood-boosting chemicals. According to John Hopkins, exercising helps you de-stress and protects against heart disease by:
- Improving the muscles’ ability to take oxygen from the blood, lowering the strain on the heart to pump more blood to the muscles
- Reducing stress hormones that place an extra burden on the heart
- Acting as a beta-blocker to slow heart rate and lower blood pressure
- Increasing HDL and helping control triglycerides
Research from the American Heart Association also shows that heart attack patients who exercised regularly reduced premature death by 20 to 25 percent.
The bottom line: physical activity helps lower stress levels and improves your quality of life, both physically and mentally.
One study found that AFib patients who participated in daily yoga had fewer atrial fibrillation symptoms. In addition, they also reported a steadier resting heart rate and blood pressure levels. Another study reported that yoga participants experienced a significant reduction in AFib episodes, decreased anxiety, and improved blood pressure levels.
Unplug from the world
Stress can undoubtedly follow you everywhere, particularly through that smartphone that is always within reach. A study from the Journal of Business & Economic Research suggests that FOMO (fear of missing out) influences decision making and behavior and causes irritability, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy or shame.
Stop your FOMO. Take a 15-minute break each day from emails, texts, news stories, social media, and phone calls — simply escape from the world.
The effects of stress build up over time. Long-term stress can cause serious health problems for your heart or make existing problems worse. Get a handle on your stress now — before stress gets a hold of your heart. If you want more information on AFib, consider enrolling in our 8-week Ultimate AFib Recovery Course.
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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD