Stress and heart disease

Stress and heart disease

by Sanjay B

Effect of Stress on Heart

Stress is considered number one killer for heart. Racing ambitions, hurry and worry of modern life directly affects man’s cardiovascular system. It is said that mind is like a Jockey and heart is like a horse. If the Jockey whips, the horse races fast. Similarly when the mind is tense, the heart beats faster and has to overwork. Modern man races against time and in turn pays a heavy price in the form of heart diseases. Infact, effect of stress on heart is a part of the ‘Fight or Flight’ response which stress creates in the body. Among other reactions in the body, the effect of this response is increase in heart beats and increase in blood pressure. If a man remains constantly stressed, his heart has to constantly over work in terms of increased heart beats and increased blood pressure. Research also proves that stress also aids atherosclerosis in blood vessels (narrowing and hardening of arteries).

Types of Stressors

Stressors (factors which cause stress) can be divided in two broad categories:

  • Physical stressors arising out of physical and environmental factors.
  • Psychological stressors arising out of mental or Psychological factors.

Physical Stressors

Physical stressors are originated out of physical and environmental factors and they have nothing to do with your mental attitude. They will affect a mentally healthy person and mentally negative person in the same way because they affect directly the physiology of the body which in turn creates stress in mind. Only thing is that if a person is quite strong, healthy and has higher vitality and stamina, he will be affected less by the same physical stressors while the bodily weak persons will be affected to a greater degree by the same physical stressors.

Following is a brief list of such physical and environmental stressors:

  1. Excessive cold in the environment
  2. Excessive heat in the environment
  3. Excessive humidity in the environment
    : There is an optimum level of temperature (20-25°C) and humidity (45-50%) in which human body functions best.
  4. Excessive noise in the environment (sounds of intensity more than 60 decibels are harmful for the heart)
  5. Pollution in the environment (Dust, smoke, various harmful chemicals etc.)
  6. Overcrowding
  7. Improper lighting, glare
  8. Faulty diet-Excess sugar, excess salt, tea, coffee, cola drinks, fatty and fried foods, smoking, alcohol, refined/processed foods etc.-all such foods create imbalance in the body leading to stress.
  9. Faulty postures of sitting, standing, lying, walking
  10. Excessive talking/speaking
  11. Overexertion

Note: All these points lead to over arousal of our sympathetic nervous system which causes an imbalance in the two components of our Autonomous Nervous System (ANS) namely Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Para Sympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) and therefore creates stress. Stress is the result of imbalance in these two components of our ANS and for stressfree state these two components should remain in balance either dynamically or homeostatically.

Now the way to protect yourself from these physical stressors are only two. One is that you should keep yourself away from such adverse environmental and physical factors as much as possible. Second is that you can build up your physical health and stamina to a degree that you are not adversely affected by such negative environmental/physical conditions when you have to be there for some temporary duration due to demand of your job.

Psychological Stressors

However, our major focus while discussing heart diseases is on psychological stressors. Psychological causes of stress revolve around the fact as to how we mentally react to various events and problems happening around us and how we look at the world and life in general. If we react to various things with negative emotions (e.g. anger, fear, hatred, jealousy, revenge, worry, irritation, frustration, anxiety), we are bound to be stressed. To illustrate with a small example, suppose your TV has suddenly gone out of order in your house. One way is to feel highly tense as to why it has happened? TV was so costly. Now I can’t enjoy TV. Another mature way of looking at it is that it is a way of life; things can get out of order and I should be able to accept any eventuality in life. This type of thinking won’t create stress in you.

Hence psychological causes of stress can be very easily eliminated by readjusting your attitudes and reactions towards various things in life. Events or various incidents themselves don’t create stress. It is only our attitude and outlook towards them which create stress. If we can learn to view everything positively, it is impossible to be in stress.

In fact, experts in the field of stress management point out that no circumstance can act as a stressor without support from our negative reactions. We can always react positively even towards the most negative and miserable circumstances in life. It is just a question of transformation of our attitudes. It is not an exaggeration to say that “Mental attitude is everything in life”.

Stress Prone Personality

New depending upon the types of reactions of the people towards various things in life, scientists have divided people into three personality types:

1. Type A Personality

Type A personality is characterized by aggressiveness, competitiveness, overambition, impatience, hurry, restlessness, racing against time. Outward symptoms of such persons are accelerated and blurred speech, explosive responses, tendency to challenge and hostility.

2. Type B Personality

They are less competitive and are patient, composed realistic and willing to come to terms with themselves, others and environment.

3. Type C Personality

They are on the other extreme as compared to Type A personality. They are depressed, sad, hopeless and withdrawn to themselves with a feeling of helplessness and inferiority.

It is the type A persons who are an easy prey to heart diseases than the persons of types B and C. Type B persons are emotionally stable. Type C persons develop other types of diseases because of their different type of negative emotions.

It is to be noted that cause of such tendency to constantly run, to race against time, to outdo others and to meet deadlines in respect of type A personality is more out of their habitual behaviour rather than real outward reasons, although it is true that executives and professional managers of business world are more likely to be in this category because that world is full of competitiveness, aggression and ambition. When the chronic tension and restlessness of both mind and body becomes a habit, then we become used to moving, tensing, planning and worrying all the time. Gradually this habit becomes so deeply entrenched that it feels abnormal to allow the body and mind to relax.

Studies show that men exhibiting the Type A personality have elevated plasma triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Extreme type A persons have also increased secretion of certain hormones e.g. adrenalin, noradrenalin, corticotrophin, cortisol while there is reduction in growth hormone. They also show accelerated tendency of clotting, accelerated heart beat and elevated B.P.

Tips on Stress Management

As already explained, external events themselves are not the sole cause of creating tension. Some people have wrong notion that something or someone external to them is responsible for their stress and unless these external situations change, they can’t be happy. But this is an incorrect understanding about the laws of stress causation. Often the people and situations around you can’t be changed but it doesn’t mean that you will remain stressed throughout the life. As earlier mentioned, it is not the external situations but your reactions towards them which cause the stress. You may control your reactions such that you are never affected emotionally no matter what happens in the outside world. It is like insulating your mind from the impact of external situations or making your mind independent of external circumstances. In this situation mind behaves as the master and the external circumstances as its servants so that mind controls the external circumstances instead of being controlled by them.

External circumstances only provide the necessary material or fuel causing stress. But they themselves can’t cause stress. They can create stress only when this fuel is ignited by the matchstick of mind. Hence the primary cause of stress is mind. External conditions act only as a secondary cause. Without the support of mind, no condition or circumstances can act as a stressor.

However, it doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t try to change his external environment or circumstances to the better. To whatever extent you can change your environment toward the better, you must do it. A positive environment is definitely a supporting factor in stress prevention.

Hence, in a nutshell, to be stress free, we should mainly strive for changing our mental attitude towards various things and happenings in life. By gaining a spiritual insight regarding the truths of life, laws of human actions and interactions, our attitudes towards life situations naturally tend to become more positive. This gives us the means to retain stability and peace of mind even under adverse conditions.

Below are given some useful tips in this direction:

1. Avoid Strain of Perfectionism and Idealism

There are many people in the world, who remain under strain because they expect perfectionism in everything and they are not able to get it.

In this connection please understand that perfection is only attributed to ‘God’. We human beings by our very definition are imperfect. No matter at what level we reach we can’t avoid making mistakes. We can reduce our imperfections by constant knowledge and practice but we can’t achieve blotless perfection

(A human being achieves perfection only when he attains the highest state of consciousness which is called ‘Moksha’ or ‘Nirvana’ or ‘Mukti’ or ‘State of God Realisation’. At this stage he doesn’t remain an ordinary human being and becomes the copartner of God. He needn’t further return to this earth for learning more lessons or attaining more perfection and is freed from the cycle of birth and death).

There are some persons who insist on getting one single perfect solution of a problem. What is needed is that instead of stressing upon one single perfect solution of any problem, one should strive to get an adequate number of good solutions which for our practical purposes will be good enough to execute. Expecting only perfectionism and idealism in every situation will constantly lead to stress. We human beings are bound to make mistakes no matter whatever we try. However, the aim should be to learn from these mistakes and reduce constantly our degree of imperfection as much as possible.

Committing mistakes is quite natural for human being. There is nothing unusual or criminal in it. There is no need to hide yourself or feel ashamed of after committing mistakes. Important thing is to learn necessary lessons from the mistake and constantly improve yourself from A to B, B to C, C to D and so on. Don’t remain stuck in your life’s journey at one point. You have to improve, improve and improve every moment of your life. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we lose the benefit of the lesson which every mistake brings with it.

2. Avoid the Strain of Impressing Others

This is one of the greatest sources of stress for a man in modern society that he wants to remain high in the opinion of others whether actually he is so or not. We can’t stand rejection from the other people. Fear of other’s opinion is the greatest threat modern man has created for himself. We fail to recognize the tremendous strain we are putting on ourselves to live upto some kind of image in other’s eyes.

By trying to impress others and thereby getting joy, you are indirectly giving the key of your happiness to others. That is if they want, they will make you happy and if they want they will make you miserable. You simply become a puppet in the hands of others who will make you dance anyway they like or it can also be said that you reduce yourself to a slave or beggar depending for your happiness on mercy of others.

Your happiness and contentment should rest in yourself and nobody should be able to snatch it away from you. You should do any work primarily from the point of view of your own satisfaction. You should derive the joy right from what you are doing. Your joy shouldn’t wait for the time when somebody will come and appreciate your work.

Don’t give much weightage to whether other people know your calibre or capabilities or whether they overestimate or underestimate you. There are many people in the world who don’t know at all about you. Is it making any difference to you? Your estimation in your own eye is much important. Other people’s comments should be taken only objectively as an opportunity to reexamine yourself and take any corrective action if required. Even if you find that you are weak in certain area, it shouldn’t matter much. In this diverse world, differences in the people are bound to be there. There is nothing unusual in it. In some areas you may be better and in some areas others may excel. To have a desire that you should be at the top in the world in all the areas and only you should be appreciated most in the world is highly illusory.

3. Cope with One Problem at a Time

As you all know, we all are surrounded by umpteen numbers of problems. If we start thinking and tackling all the problems at the same time, we will become mad and won’t be able to solve even one problem properly. The correct approach is that you make a list of all your problems and then take out one problem and just concentrate on that problem at a time. Shut out all other problems temporarily. By coping with one problem at a time, you will find the problem not overwhelming but stimulating. You will feel the enjoyment of problem solving adventure. It is only when you look at and try to solve all the problems simultaneously that you get overwhelmed by them.

4. Reduce the Velocity of Your Mind

Mind of the most of the people runs with a tremendous velocity with one thought after another. Their mind is not able to be still even for a moment. They are always planning, worrying, moving and tensing. Gradually it becomes a deep-rooted habit and a type of mind set. Even when there is nothing to worry, these people search some causes for worry and remain under free floating anxiety. When there is nothing to do, they move tense as to what to do now instead of utilizing this opportunity to relax their minds.

What is meant by high velocity of mind? It is a parameter indicating the number of thoughts moving across your mind per unit of time. Slowing down your mind essentially means reducing the number of thoughts before your mind per unit of time. Suppose previously one thousand thoughts used to move across your mind in a minute and now only hundred thoughts move in the same time. It means you have slowed down your mind to that extent. Velocity of mind is particularly high during all negative emotions and stress and significantly high during emotions of impatience, hurry and desperation.

High velocity of mind or the tremendous rush of thoughts in mind is essentially a sign of weak and uncontrolled mind. A controlled mind can continue to keep only one thought for as long as it desires without allowing other thoughts to come in. It may even remain thoughtless for a period of time it desires.

Now the way of reduce the velocity of mind is to slow it down to attend to only the present activity in your hand. Don’t remain in the memory of past and anticipations and apprehensions of future. Learn to live in the present. It is only when you think ahead of time and become past and future oriented that the speed of your mind increases and it also leads to poor performance of the present task in hand.

Normally while doing anything, we think ahead of the time when this work will be finished and we can enjoy our leisure. In this process we neglect the present and spend our time right now in unhappiness. It is our future oriented and rushing mind which blocks our happiness of the present moment and keeps our mind constantly agitated.

Once you learn to slow down your mind to the activity in hand, you will find that the most ordinary and mundane works, which earlier used to be quite boring, become quite interesting and a source of great joy and satisfaction.

It is only by slowing down and paying attention to each moment that many of the things happening around us which are normally taken for granted and seem dull and uninteresting, become highly interesting and enjoyable. If we want to experience joy and happiness in our works, we should leave the attitude of rushing and somehow finishing them as early as possible. This should be replaced by an attitude of care and awareness in each activity however trivial it may be. If we are not mindful in each small activity, we can’t be mindful in carrying out important tasks also because attitude and frame of mind can’t be suddenly changed.

5. Learn to Enjoy Right in the Work without Waiting for Fruits

Most of our stress results from our anxiety about the results or fruits of our actions. Half of our mind remains in the expectation of results because of which we are not able to put our whole mind in the work. Little do we realize that it is not the fruit or the result which gives us the joy. It is the consciousness or attitude associated with a work that gives the joy. For example, suppose you work hard for two years to achieve certain thing and let us say you achieve it after two years. Now the joy of that fruit is a momentary thrill or excitement which will remain for a day or two or say a week but eventually this excitement will fade away. It can’t remain for ever by its very nature. But you will realize that the joy associated with work for two years before you got fruits was also a joy but of different type and more lasting and it had nothing to do with fruits. In fact, any work can be made interesting to a supreme degree by paying attention to each bit of it and by trying to do it as best as you can. It doesn’t matter how trivial or significant a work is. When you learn to enjoy right in the work, then action itself becomes your award. Then you don’t have to wait for a separate fruit to give you the joy.

Philosophy behind non-expectation of fruits also comes from the fact that fruits or results of any work whatsoever are not in our hand. This is the domain which is totally under God. Freedom is given to us only in the performing of actions and not in the results. God, depending upon so many factors, grants the fruits of our actions. Your hard work is only one factor. Inspite of all your planning, efforts, hurry and worry there is no guarantee that you will get what you want because of so many uncertainties and factors associated with everything. But nobody can prevent you enjoying right in your work. Hence, learn to enjoy right while you are executing a work by bringing your total attention and awareness to the activity in hand.

6. Live One Day at a Time; Don’t Rush

Divide your life into days and then try to live and enjoy one day at a time. Shut out all yesterdays and shut out all tomorrows. Then you will have only one day’s problems to conquer and anybody can conquer just one day’s problems. It is only when you add yesterdays and tomorrows into today’s burdens that it becomes unbearable for you to handle. It is only by dividing your life into small units that you can put your whole mind into it without distraction of past and future and get enjoyment out of it. When your mind simultaneously moves into past and future, it can’t perform the present task well.

You can even divide your day further into hours and minutes and then live and enjoy life on moment to moment basis. This is the way of successful people. ( See also : Importance of preplanning )

7. Learn to Say ‘No’

Be confident, straightforward, courageous and never hesitate to say ‘No’ when it is so demanded by situation. Your slight courage in saying ‘No’ can sometimes save you from unpleasantness of the whole life time. If you are overburdened and can’t cope up any more work, it is better to say No instead keeping yourself constantly stressed and giving poor performance. However, being straightforward shouldn’t be confused with being arrogant. It is possible to be straight forward while still remaining polite and respectful. If possible, you can always explain the reasons to the other party for saying ‘No’.

8. You are Not Indispensable for the World

Some people remain under constant stress for completing various tasks. They remain under chronic time urgency or time pressure. For them, if a work is not done within a specified time, either earth will fall down or the world will come to a halt. They also pass this stress to their subordinates by labelling everything ‘very urgent’ and also transfer their anxieties and restlessness to them. The reason for this stress and anxiety is that they feel they are indispensable for the world and world can’t run without them.

Little do they realize we are dependent on this world and not the world on us. There is nothing called urgent.

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