Finally, a medical study explains why there is a direct correlation between stress and heart attack.
It turns out, increased brain activity in the area of emotional processing (the amygdala) directly increases the risk of cardiovascular events.
This study is the first to show that increased amygdala activity in humans strongly predicts cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart attack and angina.
The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions, survival instincts and memory.
That about sums up how stress feels: it’s an increased emotional load, a feeling of being overwhelmed when trying to navigate the situation, and traumatic memories from the past get linked up with traumatic present experiences — which all serve to increase the metabolic activity in your amygdala.
- 293 patients underwent full body PET/CT scans at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA
- Resting metabolic activity in the amygdala, bone marrow and arterial walls were measured
- Increased resting metabolic activity in the amygdala was strongly correlated with increased bone marrow activity, increased arterial inflammation, and increased risk of cardiovascular events (stroke, MT, or angina) during an average follow up period of 3 1/2 years.
In a follow up study, researchers examined 13 patients with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) who underwent PET scans and filled out a Stress Scale Questionnaire (PSS-10)
They found that high levels of self rated stress correlated with increase in amygdala activity, higher levels of arterial inflammation, and higher levels of the blood inflammatory marker: C-reactive protein.
The bottom line:
Based on these studies, researchers now believe that it is actually the brain activity of the amygdala (and emotional stress in particular) that links stressful events with cardiovascular disease — causing increased hemopoietic tissue activity (in the bone marrow, where blood is made) and increased vascular inflammation, both which directly increase cardiovascular disease and up the risk of stroke, heart attack and angina. They believe that it is this increased activation of the amgydala area of the brain that raises the risk for heart disease and stroke.
Chronic emotional stress raises the baseline metabolic rate of this particular area of the brain, and strongly and directly raises the risk factor for cardiovascular events.
The link between stress and heart attack, stroke, and angina is so pronounced that researchers are advocating stress levels to be considered an independent risk factor for heart disease, along with other cardiac risk factors such as age, smoking history, and family history of heart disease.
A study published just last year (April 5, 2016 in Circulation
) shows that this idea has real world applications.
Researchers followed over 150 patients who were assigned to have cardiac rehab care following a cardiac event, and found that by adding stress management skills into their cardiac rehab program they were able to slash the rate of future cardiac events in a 5 year follow up period IN HALF!
So if addressing stress reduces the risk of subsequent heart attack by 50%, now we know why: stressful brain activity is directly correlated with cardiovascular events.
Reduce the stress response in the brain, reduce heart disease in the body.
So today, here are 10 actions can you take today to decrease stress even on the most stressful day of your life:
1. Reconnect with nature.
All you have to do here is walk out your front door, step out of your office, or stop driving and step out of your car.
To reconnect with nature is to reconnect with wonder.
Whether it’s just a few deep breaths as you sit on a patch of grass, simply taking a walk through a local park, or full on spending a night under the stars… reconnecting with the wonder of being a human being standing on a rock that spirals through space and seeing the earth for the vast support network it is can’t help but lift your spirits for the better.
The health benefits of grounded — simply touching the earth — are immediate. Brain activity on EEG immediately responds and becomes less stressful, C-reactive protein levels drop over time, and sleep becomes deeper and more restorative.
The power of nature can hold even your worst of days
and remain an immovable source of strength.
Don’t believe me?
The next time you are having a panic attack, or a pounding headache, or a knot of worry grow in your stomach, just go outside. Get out there. Don’t force anything, just start walking and let nature work its magic.
And consider sleeping grounded all night long to help you recover from the stress of the day.
If you have a high stress job and are interested in protecting yourself from stress in the work place you absolutely can ground your body there too.
Resting your hands on a grounding mat while you use your computer, wearing grounding socks under your shoes, or putting a grounding patch anywhere on your body will help decrease inflammation and offset the effects of prolonged stress on your health.
Hop over here to see more options to be grounded both indoors and out!
Want to find out more about why grounding to the earth heals your body?
Watch this award winning film short “Down To Earth” (featuring Dr. Sinatra, Dr. Mercola, and Dr. Laura Koniver — that’s me!) right here.
It’s only 15 minutes long and has already won IndieFest awards, the California International Shorts Festival and more!
2. Focus on Spirit.
This is something shown over and over again in the medical literature — the power of prayer to affect clinical outcome is a beautiful fact.
The surest way I know to alleviate stress and suffering is to find meaning in it.
Whether it’s through mediation, personal prayer, asking friends and family to pray for you, cultivating your own sense of spirit surrounding and supporting you — these are all such important ways to alleviate stress.
The divine support system is around you, surrounding you, whether you are able to feel it or not.
Never fear that. Nothing is required of you.
But calling on the power of prayer and connecting with that reservoir of love is an instant boost that strengthens you and changes outcome, no doubt about it.
Need some more inspiration?
Read Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl.
He is a concentration camp survivor who writes beautifully about how the people who survived these horrific conditions were not the strongest, or youngest, or even the healthiest… they were the ones who found meaning in what they were going through.
Finding a deeper, spiritual meaning in what you are going through is — in and of itself — enough to decrease the stress of the experience you are going through.
My kids will tell you that if I am really grumpy, all we have to do is hop in the car and turn on the radio and within a few songs, all of a sudden I don’t feel so stressed out.
In fact, I feel optimistic and grateful and filled with the same sense of wonder and possibility that I feel when I spend time in nature.
The power of music to wash through you and lift you is amazing.
If you are feeling stressed or depressed, especially if you can not leave your current surroundings (perhaps you are in the hospital or your office or your car…) slip on some music and allow it to sweep through your soul and lift you higher.
Music is universal and can meet you wherever you are.
4. Reach out to your support system.
There IS a support system around you, even if you don’t think you have a friend in the world.
I know I didn’t fully realize how many people I had, providing back up support in my life, until I went through a personal crisis.
Some of my most meaningful sources of support were from people I had never ever met before — like the manager at my local bank and the complete stranger who came to pick up some furniture I got rid of as we downsized our belongings.
Both of these people forever changed my life.
Both of these people are angels living on earth.
And don’t even get me started on the unbelievably generous neighbors, friends and family that I actively leaned on for support.
I hold so many people in my heart and I am so full of gratitude to them all that I know I’ll never be able to properly return the favor… instead I yearn to pay it forward in service and in gratitude for them for the rest of my days.
If you are having a stressful crisis, ask for help.
Ask your neighbor, ask your family, ask your friends.
If you have none of the above, go out into the world asking for help to show up — go to the park, go to your bank, go to the grocery store, go to the thrift shop.
Angels are out there waiting to embrace and help you.
A symbolic fresh start during times of stress can help you move on towards healing and help usher in new, positive and hopeful energy instead of feeling stuck.
This might mean it feels right to literally move, relocate, and start a fresh chapter of your life. A new living space, a new job, a new healthier environment, new resources to surround you, a move to a more walkable community, a living arrangement that takes financial stress off of you… lots of options when redesigning a fresh start.
But even if it is impossible to move, you can go through your current living space with the idea of bringing in fresh energy — freshening up the plants in each room, rearranging whatever furniture you can, adding a mirror or two and burning candles of light in the evenings to help create a new flow of light through old, dark and depressing spaces.
Even if you can’t do anything to change your physical surroundings, creating a symbolic gesture in order to usher in a new start is so very important.
From going outside to take a deep breath of air, to lighting a smudge stick, to ringing a bell and setting a new intention for the space you are in, do something to break the illusion that you are stuck.
You are not stuck.
You are a new person every single day and every moment within that day.
When our physical surroundings don’t change, especially in the midst of great stress, you can get caught up in the illusion that your situation is permanent and hopeless.
This is not so… there is always an ebb and a flow of energy through every situation no matter how unchanging it appears on the surface.
The illusion that things never change can mentally hold you in a place of worry.
Release this by making small changes to your living space
changing the energy of the room you are in
physically leaving the space you are in for a breath or two
lighting candles/incense/sage smudging
ringing bells and chimes
bring in new lighting
adding a mirror
bringing in a new plant…
…whatever it takes to feel the energy shift in your space and remind you that nothing…
…stays the same forever.
6. Gratitude and compassion
This is a no-brainer — one of the gifts of going through suffering is that you can witness and hold other people’s suffering so much more fully.
Compassion and gratitude for the journey and knowing that others have made it through ordeals much much MUCH worse can really help instill hope to your own journey.
Knowing the darker side, leaning into it, persevering through it, witnessing with compassion what others have gone through… all of these things make traveling your own dark night feel less lonely and more optimistic in the sense that you KNOW you will reach the other side.
You WILL reach the other side.
Focus on witnessing suffering in others around you and holding compassion for the entire yin and yang of it all, the darkness and light of the world… the richness here is a different twist on helping to find meaning in suffering and the gift here is being able to open your heart even wider then you thought possible before.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is even harder to bear on folks with anxiety or stress. If you are going through a time of great stress, it is more important than ever before in your entire life that you sleep well.
You MUST SLEEP in order to recover from the stress of the day and the stress of the situation.
It is possible to treat anxiety solely through increasing the quality of your sleep.
Read this blog post for more ideas on increasing sleep quality!
8. Body work.
The feeling of worry and stress and anxiety is often the stress of energy that is accumulating in the body without release.
I know I personally feel this as a ball of pressure right in my solar plexus, but it’s different for everyone.
Irritability, crying, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, tension, muscle stiffness, decreased or increased appetite, weight loss or gain, insomnia… often these all represent energy that just needs to be released to make room for the natural healing process and health/hope to return.
If you are feeling stuck and in need of physical release, do any or ALL of the following to help assist your body in letting go of old traumas:
heat (hot water bottles are the best!)
water (in the form of showers or baths, as well as increasing hydration by drinking lots of water!)
9. Add supplements to reduce stress and protect heart health:
1. fish oil — omega 3 fatty acids offer a calming effect on the brain
2. probiotics — the link between the body and mind starts in our gut
3. resveratrol for long term heart health
4. and trace mineral drops to support heart function (including the very important mineral magnesium!)
10. Learn more about how to support the health of your heart from an energetic perspective.
What can you do to protect the longevity of your heart medically, spiritually, emotionally, energetically? If you can only do one thing to reduce stress on your heart, it’s simply to understand your heart better.
In this blog post I tell you everything you you need to know about how your heart functions both medically and emotionally, and give you a wonderful list of everything you can do protect the strength of your heart and deeply support its function on all levels.
I hope this list of 10 things you can do to decrease stress and improve your state of health… even in the middle of great personal turmoil… is helpful to you and a blessing of some ideas to consider.
Offered with much love…
P.S. — want more ideas?
Watch this video I created right in the middle of the hardest year of my life (i.e. I look like crap but that is OKAY with me because I survived! Then thrived!!)
I filled it with the very techniques I used to make it through….
I found 5 things really helped to center me again and again and again, whenever I needed the strength…
And I share them with you right here.