The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020 heart disease and depression will be the number one and number two leading causes of disability in developed countries. Stress is the undeniable link between depression and heart disease. Depression is the leading cause of disability with more than 350 million people globally affected. In addition to the debilitating consequences for mental health, research shows that depression actually predisposes an individual to stroke and heart disease.
Our bodies are designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. However, stress becomes negative when we face continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, our bodies become overworked and stress-related tension builds.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress – a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress can also bring on or worsen some diseases.
Consider these statistics:
- 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
- 75-90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
- Stress can play a part in headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace.
- The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.
Given the odds, it’s important to monitor your stress levels and take action to reduce the daily stress in your life. The American Heart Association offers these four steps to reducing stress in your life.
1. Positive Self-Talk – We all talk to ourselves; sometimes we talk out loud but usually we keep self-talk in our heads. Self-talk can be positive (“I can do this” or “Things will work out”) or negative (“I’ll never get well” or “I’m so stupid”). Negative self-talk increases stress. Positive self-talk helps you calm down and control stress. With practice, you can learn to turn negative thoughts into positive ones
2. Emergency Stress Stoppers – There are many stressful situations — at work, at home, on the road and in public places. We may feel stress because of poor communication, too much work and everyday hassles like standing in line. Emergency stress stoppers help you deal with stress on the spot. You may need different stress stoppers for different situations and sometimes it helps to combine them.
- Count to 10
- Take 3-5 deep breaths
- Walk away from the situation
- Don’t be afraid to apologize for mistakes
- Set your watch ahead to avoid being late
3. Finding Pleasure – When stress makes you feel bad, do something that makes you feel good. Doing things you enjoy is a natural way to fight off stress. You don’t have to do a lot to find pleasure. Even if you’re ill or down, you can find pleasure in simple things such as going for a drive, chatting with a friend or reading a good book. Try to do at least one thing every day that you enjoy, even if it’s only for 15 minutes.
4. Daily Relaxation – Relaxation is more than sitting in your favorite chair watching TV. To relieve stress, relaxation should calm the tension in your mind and body. Some good forms of relaxation are yoga, tai chi, meditation or deep breathing. Like most skills, relaxation takes practice. Many people join a class to learn and practice relaxation techniques.