Stress Management and Cardiac Rehab

Stressing out won’t help, managing it will.

Written by KURA Guest Writer: Doris Lu-Anderson, PhD, E-RYT500, I-CAYT

What is Stress?

People of all ages experience different types of stress daily. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (n.d.) and Dimsdale (2008), stress is a reaction to a situation where an individual feels anxious or helpless. Some stressors can be positive (e.g., preparing for an exciting life event, getting ready for a tournament). In contrast, some stressors are not so positive (e.g., dealing with a disaster, illness, unhappy marriage, burden of caregiving, work). Stressors can be caused by physical or psychological difficulties.

Stress Management Benefits Cardiac Health

Individuals experience stress in various ways and respond to it differently. When stress is extreme, it can contribute to many things such as high blood pressure (hypertension), asthma, ulcers, or irritable bowels syndrome (Schiffrin, as cited in American Heart Association [AHA], n.d.). In addition, headaches, back pains, stomach pains, shortness of breath, insomnia, loss of energy, and unstable emotions can all be indicators of stress. Heart disease, the number one leading cause of death in America (Heron, 2017), can surely be a result of stress.

Managing Cardiac health is not just about maintaining your physical health, but also about managing your psychological stress. Doctors and researchers have various opinions about this (e.g., Dimscale, Jaskanwal et al., 2018; Pimple et al., 2019), but they all suggest that having appropriate stress management helps maintain proper cardiac health. Stress management is part of preventing heart disease and the healing process.

Self Checklist for Experiencing Stress

AHA (n.d.) suggests that people keep an eye on the following signs when they are under stress:

Are you…

  • Breathing shallow or having signs of shortness of breath?
  • Eating to calm down?
  • Talking or eating very fast?
  • Drinking alcohol and/or smoking?
  • Rushing to places but don’t get things done?
  • Procrastinating?
  • Sleeping too much or too little, or both?
  • Slowing down?
  • Trying to do too many things at once/multitasking too much?

Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

There are different methods to cope with stress in a healthy way. Professionals (e.g., AHA, CDC, Ornish & Ornish, 2019) suggest the following ideas:

  • Take care of Yourself
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Exercise regularly
  • Practice yoga and/or meditation regularly
  • Give yourself a break when you feel stressed out
  • Get enough sleep
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Talk to others and recognize when you need more help. Talk to someone (e.g., family members, friends, counselor, social workers, doctor, or pastor) about your concerns and how you are feeling. It is important to maintain a healthy emotional state during cardiac rehab. We perceive that maintaining a balanced mental state is like keeping up with dental health. We brush our teeth and floss them daily to keep them healthy. Stress management should be like that!
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help for the short-term, but they can actually create additional issues and increase stress.
  • Take a break. Identify what is causing your stress and take a break from it.
  • Taking care of a pet. Taking care of a pet (your own, or fostering) or volunteering at a local animal shelter can help to reduce stress. The exercise from walking/playing with pets and the unconditional love from pets can be healing.
  • Digital detoxing. Unplug yourself from using electronic devices for a period of time (e.g., one hour per day, one day per week).

Overcoming Barriers to Stress Management

People have many reasons for not treating stress, and some of these barriers include:

  • Too busy
  • Too tired
  • It won’t work
  • Lack of enjoyment
  • Injury
  • Have to calm down before I start
  • Feeling fear
  • Get bored
  • Having to take care of others first before I take care of myself (AHA, 2019; Ornish & Ornish, 2019)

Reducing stress is part of the formula in overall cardiac rehabilitation. It may take time to adjust current lifestyles in order to destress, but it will be worth it. Try teaming up with your supporting group (e.g., doctors, therapists, family members, colleagues) and take steps to let go of these stressors.

References:

American Heart Association (n.d.). Stress and heart health. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health

American Heart Association (2019). Stress from work, home can harm women’s hearts. Here’s what to do. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/05/20/stress-from-work-home-can-harm-womens-hearts-heres-what-to-do

Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (n.d.). Coping with stress. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/copingwith-stresstips.html

Dimsdale, J. E. (2008). Psychological stress and cardiovascular disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 51 (13), 1237–1246. Heron, M. (2017). Deaths: Leading causes for 2017. National Vital Statistics Reports, 68(6), 1–76. Jaskanwal, D. S., Prasad, M., Eleid, M. F., Zhang, M., Widmer, R. J., & Lerman, A. (2018). Association between work-related stress and coronary heart disease: A review of prospective studies through the job strain, effort-reward balance, and organizational justice models. Journal of the American Heart Association. Retrieved July 26, 2020 from http://ahajournals.org/doi/epub/10.1161/JAHA.117.008073

Ornish, D., & Ornish, A. (2019). UnDo it. Ballantine Books.

Pimple, P., Lima, B., Hammadah, M., Wilmot, K., Ramadan, R., Levantsevych, O, Sulvian, S., Kim, J. Kaseer, B., Shah, A. J., Ward, L., Raggi, P., Bremner, D.,

Hanfelt, J., Lewis, T., Quyyumi, A. A., Vaccarino, V. (2019). Psychological distress and subsequent cardiovascular events in individuals with coronary artery disease

(2019). Journal of the American Heart Association. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from http://pubmed.ncbi.mln.nkh.gov/31055991

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