February is commonly known as Heart Month -- a great time to reflect on your cardiovascular fitness and risk factors contributing to heart disease.
Some of these risk factors are routinely assessed during clinic visits either by your physician or your PCN team. Your blood Pressure and weight may be measured. Diet and cholesterol levels may be reviewed. Conversations regarding smoking status, alcohol consumption and activity levels may be started. Another important component to consider is your Stress levels. Prolonged exposure to stress may cause a rise in blood pressure and cholesterol and increase your chances of developing arthrosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). So how can one address this very personalized risk factor?
Firstly, identifying your unique life stressors is of great importance. A Change in job, death of a loved one, moving, illness, caring for someone with a chronic illness, conflicts and retirement are some common life stressors that one may face. Daily stressors also play a role as one person may find deadlines extremely difficult while the next person is able to let it “roll off”.
Secondly, one can try to recognize how your body responds to these individualized pressures. Some people’s stress responses may leave them with frequent illnesses, headaches, upset stomach and muscle tension. Some may describe feelings of anxiety, difficulties sleeping or mood swings. As these stress responses develop gradually, it can be easy to have them overlooked.
Being familiar with your common pressures can help you stay on track as it can be quite challenging to lead a healthy lifestyle when dealing with chronic stress. As you start to feel your “levels rise” try to consider these reduction tips and the impact they could have on your heart disease risk:
- Share your feelings with friends, family or your health home.
- Take time for yourself.
- Eat healthy and in moderation.
- Get a good night's sleep.
- Incorporate daily activity such as stretching or light walking.
Heather Armstrong, Registered Nurse at HealthWORX Clinic in Medicine Hat, AB.