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Stress and Cardiovascular Health

Over the last decade there have been a number of studies, numerous articles and research studies regarding the correlation between excessive stress and the impact upon cardiovascular health. The research continues while underscoring the significance of stress and its effects on cardiovascular disease. As a starting point, it is important to recognize that there is an integrative aspect to one’s health, which includes the physical, mental and emotional components that comprise the whole person. The American Institute of Stress, for example, has been at the forefront of examining the effects of stress, including the variations of stress, combinations of stress, and personality types (e.g., Type A and Type B, et al), psychological/emotional characteristics (e.g., impulsivity, depression and anxiety, hyper-vigilance, inflexibility, low tolerance, et al), and certain maladaptive behavioral patterns (e.g., excessive and fierce competitiveness, controlling and authoritative traits, internalized state anger, temperament and aggressiveness, unrealistic goals, demands and expectations, et al). All of these may likely contribute to an increase in acute stress often culminating in a life journey of chronic stress and heart disease that could result in a sudden heart attack. The goal, of course, would be to identify our stress related lifestyles and begin the process of making significant change and preventing placing ourselves at risk.

Unfortunately, in our society stress has become commonplace for many people to the point that they actually may thrive on a stress induced life which has become a mark of their ability to accomplish and succeed. Such people may, in fact, become driven and preoccupied with their stressed-out lifestyle, often oblivious to the fact that they are placing their heart at a high level of risk – until, that is, there is an intervention by their cardiologist. Some individuals, may find themselves increasingly relying more on alcohol or other substances,     to numb out the underlying stress, and chalk it all up to the necessities of succeeding in life. The good news, is that it is never too late to make change in our lives especially when we recognize we’ve been sabotaging our lives with excessive stress and that we can actually do something about it. The therapeutic intervention “Mindfulness” has been an effective approach for reducing coronary heart disease as it relates to stress.

The application of “Mindfulness” is a therapeutic modality that integrates a medical intervention (with a cardiologist) program in conjunction with a psychological well-being approach that focuses on one’s mental and emotional health. In this case, the concern would be not only to identify excessive stress in one’s life by an intervention assessment, but to help an individual gain increased tolerance for stress, flexibility, relaxation techniques, cognitive restructuring (i.e., identifying thinking errors and shifting our perception and cognitions), behavioral changes, modifying sabotaging lifestyle patterns, problem-solving, and improving the quality of one’s life. It is also important to treat situations in which an individual may be experiencing depression, anxiety, and underlying areas of unresolved emotional conflict. Meditation has also been a significant discovery for many wanting to lower their stress factor. Today, it’s almost as if “stress” is what connects us, the driving force that we confront on a daily pace – our work, our relationships, our health, our finances, our achievements, and most importantly, with ourselves. The irony is that we have one life to live, and yet we can feel as though we’ve lost out on life.

Mindfulness is a renewal of discovery, the journey of discovering the undiscovered self by seizing the day and engaging the moment, learning how to appreciate ourselves with gratitude and compassion, being attentive, passionate, purposeful, experiencing peace and contentment while creating our lives.

As the Director of Well-Being at Strata Integrated Wellness Spa in Colorado Springs, Colorado, our focus is on a personalized integrated health program that embraces one’s physical, mental and emotional health. In order to treat stress effectively in which there has been an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, we focus on restoring physical health, which includes consultation and assessment with the Director of Wellness, renowned cardiologist, Dr. Michael Barber, M.D., who was also certified in holistic health. The International Wellness Spa consists of viable treatments with trained doctors and clinicians in both Western and Eastern medicine, including chiropractic, naturopathic, acupuncture, nutritional, physiological fitness and health, and spa treatments; there is also treatment for chronic pain (a significant stress factor) without an excessive reliance upon opioids. It is important to underscore the importance of treating the whole person from an integrative health approach for intervening with stress.

By Ron Apgar, LPC, CEAP

References:

  • Stress and Heart Disease – The American Institute of Stress, Paul Rosch, M.D.; Health and Stress; Can Stress Cause Coronary Heart Disease; No.3;10:207-210.
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Production Program in Coronary Heart Disease: A Randomized Control Trial; M.J. Parswani, M.D.
  • Stress in Heart Health: American Heart Association; E. Schiffrin, M.D., 2008.
  • Psychological Stress and Cardiovascular Disease; Joel E. Dimsdale, M.D.; Kim Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
  • Mental Stress and Human Cardiovascular Disease, Neuroscience and Bile behavioral Reviews; M.Esler, Ph.D; 2017.