A major risk factor for heart disease is work-related stress. Here’s how to deal effectively with it and safeguard your heart.

We’ve all had times when work pressures peak and finding those restful moments is tough. Workplace stress and associated problems are becoming increasingly prevalent, especially among the upwardly mobile population. Each year, an astonishing number of working days are lost due to stress related health issues.

Physical symptoms of stress become evident when individuals face chronic stress and suffer from an over-stimulated autonomic nervous system.

The first symptoms can be relatively mild, like chronic headaches and increased susceptibility to colds. However, as stress levels increase, symptoms are likely to be amplified.

Stress-induced conditions may include: depression, diabetes, hair loss, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, obesity, obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder, sexual dysfunction, ulcers.

Two ways

How can we deal with stress effectively? There are two ways to do this:

Stress-neutralisation: Techniques, including meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises are easily learned and can bring the body to a calm state.

Prevention: A large portion of stress in our lives is actually avoidable. Simple methods like better organisation, effective time management and inter-personal communication skills are first steps towards a minimally stressful lifestyle.

Exercise is one of the most effective stress reduction techniques because it catalyses the release of mood-enhancing chemicals through our nervous system.

Regular exercise not only makes us fitter and boosts immunity, but also works wonders for our morale and builds a healthier mindset. Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity three or five times a week is all it takes to reap these benefits.

But make sure that the exercises have been recommended by a certified trainer or a physiotherapist. You can even take a brisk walk around the parking lot during your lunch break; use steps instead of lifts/escalators; play outdoor sports with children.

Lifestyle changes

Here are some lifestyle changes to help prevent stress-related heart disease:

Quit or limit smoking. List all the hazards of smoking. Then write down why you want to quit. Pick a date to quit and prepare by figuring out how you will deal with cravings. The day before, throw away cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters.

Talk to your doctor. Smoking changes the way your body reacts to certain medication. Also check if you would require nicotine replacement (available as patches, gum, and inhalers).

Avoid temptation. Stay away from smoke-filled bars and social situations that may tempt you until you feel determined enough to stick to your resolution. Keep trying. If you don’t succeed on your first attempt, try again. It’s not unusual for people to quit smoking after a couple of aborted attempts.

Healthy eating. A healthy, well balanced and nutritious diet plays a crucial role in keeping the body equilibrium intact. Eating at the right time and in appropriate quantity is also important.

Quality Sleep. People often underestimate the importance of getting enough sleep, at the right time and as suited to their body clock.

However, lack of adequate sleep can cause minor problems like a general feeling of listlessness to a serious problem like weight disorders and memory loss.

Myths

Myth 1: Stress is the same for everybody.

Not true. Stress is different for each one. What is stressful for one may not be so for another; each of us responds to stimulants in our external and internal environment differently; hence, our reactions to stress also differ.

Myth 2: Stress is always bad for you.

According to this view, zero stress makes us happy and healthy. This is not the complete truth. Stress is, to the human condition, what tension is to the violin string: too little and the music is dull and raspy; too much and the music is shrill or the string snaps. Stress is essential for it enables us to decide our responses and reactions to situations. Often managed stress makes us productive and happy; though mismanaged stress can be injurious to health.

Myth 3: Stress is everywhere, so you can’t do anything about it.

False. You can plan your life to deal effectively and efficiently with life situations. It’s about doing our homework and being prepared. That way stress is unlikely to overwhelm our senses.

Myth 4: The most popular techniques for reducing stress are the best ones.

There is no one single universally effective stress reduction technique. As stress is differently perceived by different individuals, same holds true for stress-coping behaviours. Different techniques will yield results for different people.

Myth 5: Only major symptoms of stress require attention.

This myth assumes that the ‘minor’ symptoms, such as headaches or acidity, may be safely ignored. But these minor symptoms of stress are the early warnings for complications that might appear later. Best to act upon them swiftly and seek medical advice.

The writer is the CEO and Chief Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon.

At the workplace

Take a few deep breaths, hold, and release. Try to breathe from the diaphragm. As you breathe out, imagine your body relaxing more and more.

Take proper, well-timed breaks.

Stretching out for a minute can also be refreshing. A relaxed mind can think more logically.

Tense each of your muscles in turn. Then relax them. This helps release stiffness in the body.

Roll your shoulders and neck round slowly, and then do a good stretch. It will get rid of any nagging muscular tension in the neck and back; areas vulnerable to stress diseases like degenerated discs.