Can preventing or managing stress lower my risk of stroke?
How you perceive a potentially stressful situation and how you respond to it, both emotionally and physically, determines how stress affects your health. It is impossible to completely avoid or eliminate stress in your life, and some stress is actually good for you, helping you to meet a challenging deadline or even avoid a falling object. It is the frequent or chronic stress that takes its toll on your health. This is why learning to cope with stress is more important than trying to prevent it altogether.
The strategies you use to manage your physical and behavioral response to stress—like exercising, relaxing, good nutrition, and not smoking—can have a lasting benefit on your overall health. A 7-year study of more than 20,000 adults (57% were women) found that those who adapted better to stressful events had a lower risk of stroke than those who had a harder time adapting, suggesting that the better you're able to manage your response to stress, the more your health will benefit.16
How can I manage my stress?
There are a variety of ways to reduce and manage your physical and emotional response to stress:
Identify your stressors—The first step in learning how best to manage your stress is to identify the major sources of stress in your life, when they tend to happen, and how you react to each stressor. You can try keeping a stress diary in which you write down situations where you've felt stressed, the circumstances leading to them, and how your responded.
Recognize stress you can control and can't control—Ask yourself if this is a stressor you can avoid, such as turning the TV news off if it's only making you anxious. If you're stressed about something out of your control, such as a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, change how you react to it by finding healthy and positive ways of coping with it physically and emotionally, including educating yourself about the current situation and making plans on what precautions you can take.
Exercise—Healthy exercise, such as walking, is the natural stress reliever; it reduces the amount of stress hormones that your body releases in response to stressful situations. Exercise can help you relax and improve your sleep, especially when done 3 to 6 hours before bedtime to allow your body enough time to cool down and relax.
Relaxation—Relaxation exercises involve the flexing and releasing of major muscle groups. Breathing exercises in which you consciously slow and deepen your breathing to help you relax also helps to reduce stress. Start by taking a deep breath and releasing it as you count to 10.
Sleep—You should try to get 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep can increase the level of stress hormones.
Healthy diet—Good nutrition can help you deal with the effects of stress.
Social support—Finding social support either from friends and family or through a support group can be helpful. People with good social support report less stress compared to those without a good support network.
Time to yourself—Women tend to put others before themselves. Remember to make some time for yourself, especially when you're feeling stressed, to relax and replenish energy. Learn to say "No," even if only to take enough time off for a long, hot bath.
Avoid unhealthy response to stress—Abusing alcohol, tobacco, or food doesn't help with stress; it only makes it worse.
Counseling—If you need further help dealing with stress, consider counseling (individually or in group therapy) to learn how to reduce your stress symptoms and improve your health.
For More Information
Medline Plus - Managing Stress
American Heart Association – How Can I Manage Stress?
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