By Dr. Rocio Huet

University of Tennessee

Medical Center

Whether it’s a traffic jam, family disagreement, or an unexpected bill, everyday life can cause stress. While some stress is perfectly healthy, what happens if you are not able to manage these life challenges easily? The overwhelming stressors can lead to psychological, emotional and physical problems. According to Dr. Rocio Huet, Director of Integrative Medicine and an internal medicine physician at The University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC), stress management is very important to maintaining overall health and is vital to heart health.

“Heart disease is one of those physical problems unmanaged stress can increase,” says Huet. “We aren’t sure if stress itself increases the risk of heart disease or if high stress makes other potential risk factors worse, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. When we are highly stressed, we tend to overeat, sleep poorly, move less, and sometimes boost our alcohol and tobacco use.”

Huet explains that these behaviors only increase our risk factors for heart disease.

“Chronic stress elevates our stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which increase our bodies’ inflammation, predisposing us to cholesterol plaque rupture with clotting in the heart arteries leading to heart attacks.”

“Stress can also affect your emotional health,” says Huet. “It can lead to increased anxiety or depression. We know that depression and heart disease often occur together.”

How can we better manage our everyday stress to increase our heart health in a positive way? Huet gives us some daily habits to practice managing stress.

Breathe with

awareness

“Practice taking ten deep slow diaphragmatic breaths when you need to calm yourself. This moves us away from the flight/fright mode to lower adrenaline.”

Start your day

with a gratitude

meditation

“Spend three minutes every morning before leaving bed visualizing five people in your life and send them each your silent gratitude. This allows you to start out with positivity and without immediately ruminating about your day.”

Practice self-care

“Find time by unplugging from technology for at least 20 minutes and limiting your exposure to news. Turn off your work phone and do not answer emails during this time. Interact more with your loved ones, enjoy the sun daily, do something creative, practice yoga.”

Eat healthy

“Eating more plant based whole foods can benefit your health. Try to be mindful when eating so you don’t overeat. A balanced colorful diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and lean proteins will help maintain your energy.”

Move more

“Exercise is an excellent stress reliever by releasing pent up adrenaline. It is relaxing and energizing. Physical activity enhances mood, self-esteem and overall well-being in addition to enhancing strength and stamina. Devote time every day to movement.”

Get adequate

sleep

“Seven to nine hours of quality sleep is necessary for most adults. During sleep you enable your body to repair and detoxify. Sleep may also prevent excess weight gain as well as prevent heart disease.”

Limit alcohol

consumption

“In addition to causing stress, drinking excessively can increase liver and heart disease, and interfere with sleep. It can also cause irreversible damage to your arteries. Decreasing alcohol consumption will help you maintain a healthier heart and reduce your stress.”

According to Huet, nearly half of Americans have heart disease and it is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men and women.

“Taking steps now to control your stress will decrease your chances for chronic heart diseases and will help you live a healthier happier life.”

For reliable information on taking care of your health or a loved one’s health, contact UTMC’s Health Information Center at (865) 305.9525 or online at www.utmedicalcenter.org/hic. Staffed by medical librarians and certified health information specialists, the Health Information Center offers an extensive health library, digital and printed resources, walk-in assistance, and help with the research on specific health conditions – all free of charge and available to the public.