#014 Eliminate Stress in Seven Steps

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Eliminate Stress in Seven Steps

I recently performed an ablation for a patient who was suffering from atrial fibrillation following the recent death of her husband of 50 years.  She and her husband did everything together.  It was the kind of marriage that everyone dreams about.

Unfortunately, last summer her husband died suddenly.  She was left heart broken.  She was so devastated she could not leave her home for months until she became too short of breath to even walk inside her home.

Her daughters brought her to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure from the Broken Heart Syndrome.   After she was treated with the appropriate medications, her heart failure improved. However, it was not until she was no longer grieving her husband that her heart failure completely resolved.  Unfortunately, she was left with atrial fibrillation…

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy or the Broken Heart Syndrome in My Practice

This is something that I have seen many times in my career.  While it is often from the death of a loved one, I have also seen it from other forms of stress such as family conflict, natural disaster, a lawsuit, losing a job, losing a house, etc. Fortunately, most cases resolve once people are able to manage their stressful experience.

Stress and Our Health

Stress is everywhere!  In fact, 83% of Americans are stressed out at work according to Everest College’s 2012 study. Another study showed that chronic stress has a similar damaging effect on the body as smoking 5 cigarettes a day  Even just thinking you are “stressed” is enough to increase your risk of a heart attack by 27%.

Stress shortens our lives and leads to premature aging.  The stress we are feeling now predicts our health 10 years down the road.  Stress is part of the human experience.  We cannot avoid it.  The key is how do we process and manage stress?

Eliminate Stress

What are the effects of stress on the cardiovascular system?  

For years, I have seen how people with high anxiety levels seem to be very prone to a dangerous heart rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation or Afib.  It always seems that when these people are most stressed they have an episode of Afib.  In addition to Afib, stress can trigger may other cardiovascular problems.  If you want to read more just click on each condition.

1. Stress can trigger arrhythmias

2. Stress can cause strokes

3. Just one episode of mental stress can cause heart cells to die. (here is a more layperson’s report of this study)

4. When we are stressed out we eat heart damaging foods.

What can we do?

Unfortunately, studies have shown that we can even inherit stress from our parents.  But, like everything else we have learned, our DNA is not our destiny.  We can change our lives and change the lives of those who will follow us.

7 Ways to Manage Stress and Avoid the Broken Heart Syndrome

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Be grateful for whatever you have.  Studies show that if we have an “attitude of gratitude” stress becomes much more manageable.

2. Get Enough Sleep

When it gets dark at night it is time to start winding down our day.  If we are sleep deprived we cannot manage anything very well.  Get your sleep and your stress will be much easier to manage.

3. Keep Physically Active

Physical activity allows us to diffuse the toxic stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin.  If you are stressed, go on a long strenuous walk.  Exercise really does reduce stress!

4. Eat Right

If we eat the right foods, especially fruits and vegetables  it gives our bodies the right nutrients to keep everything working properly.

5. Meditate

Meditation can quiet the mind and reduce stress.  Meditation can come in many different forms.  For some it can be prayer for others it could mean yoga.

6. Connect With Others

Too often, when we are stressed, we turn inward.  This is especially true for men.  When we are stressed out is when we need to reach out to others the most.  We need to find ways to help others when we are stressed the most.  It seems counter intuitive but when we focus on others rather than ourselves our stress will magically resolve.

7. Accept What You Cannot Change

At the end of the day, there are just things that are beyond our control. We simply can’t fix everything.

What do you think?  Is stress affecting your health? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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11 Comments
  1. Dr John,
    My AFib started after my husbands diagnosis with brain cancer, Glioblastoma Grade 4. I have had four episodes of AFib with RVR in the past year. I cannot tolerate any medication to control it and now they want to do an ablation. My heart is healthy otherwise. All tests are normal. I am 5 years old. I was put on 0.25 mg of Xanax per day and it is helping control both the anxiety and the AFib. I lost 30 lbs in the past year and have adapted a healthy diet. No alcohol at all.
    Do you feel that an ablation would cure this, or would controlling the stress as much as I can stop it from every happening again? My EP said that I am a great candidate for the ablation, but of course I would rather not if I don’t have to. He didn’t really have an answer to my question above except to say that it will only get worse now that I have been diagnosed.
    Wish you were closer, I am in NJ.
    Thanks for your advice.
    Cynthia

    • Hi Cynthia,

      So sorry to hear about the health challenges in your family! You are not alone, I have seen many cases of Afib pop up after a significant life stressor.

      I used to also believe that Afib only got worse with time. According to studies, about half of all Afib cases will go into remission with a healthy lifestyle. I have seen this time and time again in my practice!

      For those looking for a non drug way to manage Afib, if a healthy lifestyle doesn’t reverse the Afib then ablation can be a good option. If you ultimately decide on an ablation, make sure your physician and hospital have a lot of experience with this procedure. Life-threatening complications are far more likely to occur with physicians and hospitals that don’t do hundreds of cases every year.

      Wishing you the best!

      John

  2. Dr John, I wish you were my doctor,i’m having a lot of PVCs, I did all the text you mentioned and all was normal but this PVCs bother me a lot, I know my is because I am stress out and have anxiety, I don’t know what to do with my life anymore. Help please

    • Hi Sue,

      So sorry to hear about your challenges. The key is to find a caring local cardiologist as well as someone who can help with stress and anxiety.

      There is hope. Most of my patients find relief in one way or another. It may take some time so don’t give up!

      Hope this helps!

      John

  3. thanks for all this valuable information. I have to refocus each day and take care of me. Often I focus on what I think needs to be done and then I become anxious when it is more than one could ever do. Let go and relax is a good image to have in ones head. Look for peace in nature and help others. Thanks for all the wonderful information and insights!!!

  4. Yes, STRESS is affecting my health. I have been having a lot of anxiety here lately and my Pvc’s seem to be worse. I can even feel them really badly around 5 am. TOmorrow I have an appt with my heart doctor. Last year I went through a divorce and then starting dating someone. On our dates we would drink a lot of wine and I noticed the PVC’s started up for the first time in my life. They went away for a while but now they are back again. I think it is because I have been stressing over things in my life. Work, being a single parent, money issues. So I am going to start back on my mindfulness meditation. The breathing in through the nose on the count of 5 and exhaling through the mouth on the count of five really helps lower adrenaline and stress. I walk every day and my bp runs 110/61. Last time I went to cardiologist which was in the summer of 2015 he didn’t see anything structural going on to cause the PVC’s. He did prescribe a very small dose beta blocker (12.5 mg) and I tried it but found even the small dose made my depression worse. I am thinking it could be my lifestyle as I never drank for years and I also didn’t have physical type jobs which I do now. I am 42 and always worked in an office, and now I am lifting big buckets of ice and so forth. Looks like a need a new job!!! I am going to work on finding another job and de stressing!

  5. The first thing I am writing in my gratitude journal is being grateful for finding this site and Dr. Day. *hug*

  6. […] If you suffer from a lot of stress and anxiety the first step is to get this under control. Do something each day to relieve stress. Yoga has been shown to be very helpful in controlling arrhythmias. For more information, please read my article (Blog #14), Eliminate Stress in Seven Steps. […]