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Your Heart Health
As much as you may try to ignore it, you cannot separate your wellness
from your emotions. Every feeling you have affects some part of your body,
and stress can wreak havoc on your physical health even if you’re doing
everything else “right.”
The classic definition of stress is “any real or imagined threat, and
your body’s response to it.” Celebrations and tragedies alike can cause a
stress response in your body.
All of your feelings, positive or negative, create physiological changes.
Your skin, heart rate, digestion, joints, muscle energy levels, the hair on
your head, and countless cells and systems you don't even know about change
with every emotion.
Stress plays a major role in your immune system, and can impact your
blood pressure, cholesterol levels, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, and
hormonal balance. It can even “break” your heart, and is increasingly being
viewed as a cardiovascular risk marker.
Women are more vulnerable to feeling sadness and anxiety than men,
according to research, and feel the pressures of stress more than their male
peers, both at work and at home.
You cannot eliminate stress entirely, but you can work to provide your
body with tools to compensate for the bioelectrical short-circuiting that can
cause serious disruption in many of your body's important systems.
By using techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), you
can reprogram your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday
life. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and meditation are also
important “release valves” that can help you manage your stress.
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How Women Experience Stress
Some stress is unavoidable; mild forms of stress can even be helpful in
some situations. A stressor becomes a problem when:
Your response to it is negative.
Your feelings and emotions are inappropriate for the circumstances.
Your response lasts an excessively long time.
You’re feeling continuously overwhelmed, overpowered or overworked.
According to the featured article in The Guardian,1 certain themes
connect women’s experience of stress. Stomach-churning anxiety, for example,
is far more common in women than men. As is feelings of sadness in response
to stress, and not being able to stop thinking about that which worries them.
This in and of itself may feed into a vicious cycle that makes matters
progressively worse, because when you dwell on negative emotions you
internalize the stress, which can make it more difficult to come up with
constructive ways to address the problem.
According to Dr. Tara Chaplin, who led a 2008 study2 investigating the
role of gender and emotion, sadness and anxiety are very passive emotions, so
while you’re sitting there thinking and worrying, you’re less likely to
assert yourself and engage in active problem-solving.
This could be particularly problematic in the workplace, she warns. She
suggests finding other, more active methods of coping instead of ruminating
and dwelling on negative emotions. What can you change about the situation to
make it better? What can you do to lessen those stressful feelings?
“Take an active role and thinking of healthy ways to cope – which
could be anything from exercise, meditating, using some new mindfulness
techniques, taking breaks for yourself," she told The Guardian.
"I focus my research on how women and men cope with stress, but we
also need to have a conversation about what can be done societally to reduce
stress on women... Are there programs that can be in place for subsidizing
daycare so you have good daycare? Could we have longer maternity leave?
These sorts of things are really important."
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How Stress Affects Your Heart
In related news, mounting research shows that people exposed to traumatic
and/or long-term stressors, such as combat veterans, New Orleans residents
who went through Hurricane Katrina, and Greeks struggling through financial
turmoil, have higher rates of cardiac problems than the general population.
According to NBC News:3
“Disasters and prolonged stress can raise 'fight or flight' hormones
that affect blood pressure, blood sugar and other things in ways that make
heart trouble more likely, doctors say. They also provoke anger and
helplessness and spur heart-harming behaviors like eating or drinking too
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