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A landmark study (the Interheart Study) of over 13,000 patients, led by Sali Yusuf, came to the conclusion that those who reported permanent stress either at home or at work had more than double the risk of developing a heart attack. The global effect of stress was less than for smoking, but similar to hypertension or adbominal obesity. The effects of stress were similar for both men and women. The conclusion was that for non-smokers with good cholesterol levels, “stress is the most powerful predictor of a heart attack.” Your stressed heart needs your help.
Salim Yusuf is a McMaster University researcher whose global approach to heart disease has touched millions of lives is the winner of the 2014 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, one of the world’s most prestigious medical prizes)director of the Population Health Research Institute and vice-president of research at Hamilton Health Sciences, a network of teaching hospitals and care centres affiliated with McMaster university’s medical school.
More recently, the Grant study, started in 1938 and following 262 Harvard grads over 75 years, (see the video) https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness?language=en?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread , also provided strong support for the growing body of research that has linked social ties with longevity, lower stress levels and improved overall well-being. The study found loving, strong relationships to be far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction and longevity in good health. As Georges Vaillant, one of the researchers puts it: Connection is the whole shooting match.
I first read about the Interheart study a couple of years ago, as I was relaxing on a lounge chair just looking at the sky and the mountains, waiting to receive my second therapeutic massage in three days in majestic Mont-Tremblant and I felt I was immune to stress and it’s consequences.
Don’t be a frog
However, I know from my studies and extensive reading, and yes from my own life experiences, that stress is a silent killer. Unless it happens through a huge crisis, it resembles the story of the frog. The one where the frog is put in a pot of cold water on the stove and the water warms slowly. The frog gets used to the warmer temperature little by little and does nothing to jump out, until it’s too late.
Just like the frog, we get used to stress to the point of considering it normal. It’s only when it gets so big that our functioning is so impaired that we need to ask for help or take drastic measures to give ourselves some breathing room.
If you are a single parent, you have stress; if you take care of aging parents, that’s stress too; if you have a job with poor management above you, that’s stress; if you have unfinished emotional business from your family of origin or from a previous relationship, that’s stress; if you are a two working parent family, you have stress; if you have too little money, or too much money (afraid to loose it) that’s also stress. If you hate your job that’s stressful. If you are in conflict with someone, that’s also stress. If you are unhappy in your relationship, that’s stress.
If you feel you don’t have a choice about how you live your life, that’s stress. If you don’t take your lunch break as a break, that’s stress. If you brag about multi-tasking, you are also probably stressed. If you can’t find the time to get that massage or for your eye exam, or…. I could go on and on. If you are a human being, you have some stress in your life, most likely a lot of it.
you can do something about it
We can’t eliminate all stressors in your life, but there are a number things we can do to either eliminate some from our life or grow ourselves in ways that make us more resilient.
How do I know? Because I have experienced at least 90% of the above at some point in my life. And because I still have stressful stuff going on in my life and I can see how I have come a long way in how I manage it.
So now you know you are stressed. What do you do? One more thing to add to your already full schedule? Not exactly. I will suggest a few ways to find some breathing space.
There are some stressors we can do little about, at least in the short term. There are other stressors we absolutely have some control over. The trick is to let go – for now – of what we can’t control and that includes everybody else, as well as situations where we are not the only boss.
The first place we can control is in our thoughts (and the words we use). If I tell myself that it’s “awful” or “terrible” or “impossible”, I scare myself and make myself believe that I won’t succeed or even survive. On the other hand when I tell myself that “‘I can do this, or it’s been done before, I’ll find a way (a favorite of mine), it’s much more likely that I will feel capable to deal with whatever situation I am facing.
There are also things I can change to lower my stress. My very favorite one is to always give myself extra time to get somewhere. Whether I am meeting a friend, or having my winter tires installed, or getting to a class, I always make sure to leave early enough to get there at least 10 minutes early, usually 15. Roadside construction, accidents, detours happen almost daily where I live. I have been told I am wasting time but I am not. I bring a book in case I need to wait longer than planned and most of the time I relax by “people watching”.
The second way you can lower your stress is to drop everything that is not a top priority, whether it’s cleaning the kitchen, meeting with a friend, running errands (a huge time gobbler), watching tv, surfing the internet, volunteer work or visiting out of town friends or relatives. One example is if you just had a baby, concentrate on taking care of the baby and taking care of yourself – not cleaning the house, or having people over, or getting to the store, or …….Just you and the baby for now – sleep and eat for both of you.
The third way you can lower your stress is by being better organized. If you can never find what you are looking for or if your house looks like it’s been hit my a tornado, make time to get organized. There is a difference between a house that looks lived in and one that looks like a disaster area. There is also a big difference between being orderly and trying to compete with House Beautiful. I personally tend to have a little more than not enough in terms of things lying around and sometimes I find it’s bothering (stressing) me and I do a once-all-over pick yourself up Marguerite.
Being organized for me also includes having enough of what I need in the house so I don’t have to run errands to get basic stuff. That includes pantry staples, as well as bathroom supplies, shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash, body wash, etc. Every trip out takes time (and gas) and if you are like me, it’s not uncommon to come back with a full bag when you just out to get milk.
Another way I am organized is by having a day planner – yes a real paper one, with a page for each day. I have a very good memory and the most important stuff I don’t need to write down but now I do anyway.
I also use lists to get things done. Whether it’s something related to my blog or my housekeeping to-do. What I love most about lists is when I check each item as it is done. My to-do housekeeping list is priceless for me because it keeps me on track (I am domestically challenged).
Exercise of all kinds, whether walking, running, swimming, yoga or taichi are great ways to help with stress but they are only a plaster. You need to look at the factors in your life that cause the stress and address those.
A bad boss is no laughing matter and exercise or meditation will help but you need to look for a new job. So is a bad relationship. In both cases, try to see if it can improve but if it shows no sign of improvement after a few months and or counseling, value yourself enough to get out. Bad neighbours can also be tolerated for a little while, but if it keeps you awake at night, look at moving. Your health is in the balance.
Coach’s tip: Set aside one hour this weekend and look at the stresses in your life.
If you say you can’t take time to do this, that’s a sign that you really need to find the time to do it. Look at all your “obligations” and other activities. Does this leave you with time to relax and do nothing. Yes, absolutely nothing. Just enjoying the sky and the sound of the birds. Or time to do what you say you want to do: start an exercise program, prepare healthy meals, read that book, take that class, go to bed early, take time to journal.
Often being away from our usual surroundings, whether it’s camping or being at a resort we get back in touch with what’s truly important. It’s ok to feel self-indulgent. We are not machines and we are not meant to live like we are. Remember: stress is a killer. Take care of your heart.
Let me know if you found something useful in this post. If so, please share it. I enjoy writing and I really hope to make a difference in your life.