Health

Stress in America

For the first time in a 10-year history of surveys of stress in America, the American Psychological Association survey, conducted in January 2017, found a statistically significant increase in stress levels in the U.S. compared to the previous year.

It appears that Americans are more stressed today than ever.

Whether we’re stressing over financial woes, work, a romantic relationship on the rocks or possibly the latest, breaking, political news story, the anxiety can wreak havoc on our bodies if we can’t get it under control.

We experience stress when we perceive the demands placed on us exceed our ability to cope. Stress can be beneficial at times, motivating us to work hard and get ahead or by providing a necessary boost of drive and energy to help us through certain situations like exams or work deadlines. However, an extreme amount of stress, especially worry over the long haul, can have health consequences, affecting our immune, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine and central nervous system, and cause a severe emotional toll.

The human body’s stress response was made for short-term acute stress such as fleeing immanent danger, like running away from a bear. But, stressors today have become much more chronic and our bodies aren’t equipped to deal with this.

Research shows that each age group…stage of life…has its own common stressors. Findings indicate that people in their 20s are the most stressed out generation of our time.  They’re graduating from college, worrying about college debts, looking for jobs, dating and dealing with constant social media comparisons. 30-somethings are managing a lot of extra responsibilities, both at work, as they climb the career ladder, and at home, as they become parents and homeowners. 40-somethings, also referred to as the “sandwich generation,” are worrying about their growing kids as well as their aging parents. In addition, this group begins contemplating their own immortality. For 50-somethings, planning for retirement as well as an empty nest can be quite jolting.

Coping with Stress:

Understand how we stress. Each of us experiences and manages stress differently. Some things that may be stressful for one person may serve as a trigger for others to become more productive. It’s important for each of us to know what types of situations make us feel different than we do most of the time.

Find healthy ways to manage our stress. This will be unique to each of our personalities. We need to find a healthy, stress-reducing activity that works best for us. It may be exercising, talking things out with a friend or family member, listening to music, writing, or spending downtime with someone special.

Take care of ourselves. At times, we take on more than we can manage. But, no matter how hectic life gets, we must take time for ourselves – even if it’s something simple like curling up on the couch and reading a good book or listening to our favorite music. We must also make sure that we eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, engage in routine physical activity and take regular vacations or other breaks from work.

Limit time watching or listening to the news. It’s great to be informed, but there’s a difference between getting needed information and becoming obsessed with what’s going on in the world. The news is presented…spun in a dramatic way, which often creates anxiety.

Focus on the aspects of our lives in which we have control. We can’t control a lot of what happens across the country or the world. So, it’s important to work on the aspects of our lives we do have some control over such as how much effort we put into our work, our relationships, our health and even our community.

Reach out for support and take action if needed. It’s not always easy to open up to others about our lives and problems. However, talking to and accepting help from a trusted and supportive family member, friend or even a professional can improve our ability to manage stress as well as change unhealthy behaviors.

American Heart Health Month

With February designated as American Hearth Health Month, it seems fitting to help bring attention and awareness to the seriousness of heart disease in the United States.

According to the American Health Association, nearly a quarter of the deaths in the U.S. are caused by heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in this country, causing 1 in 4 deaths. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, remains the leading global cause of death with more than 17.9 million deaths each year. This staggering number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are the leading risk factors for heart disease. Shockingly (or maybe not), about 47% of Americans today have at least one of these risk factors.

In the U.S., 1 in 4 women dies from heart disease. The most common causes of heart disease in both men and women is narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. This happens very slowly over time and it’s the major reason people have heart attacks.

In addition to the leading risk factors mentioned above, several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices also put people at a higher risk of heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Poor Diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle – Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use

Heart Attack Symptoms – Men vs. Women

Women have a higher risk of dying from a heart attack than men. One of the reasons is because women don’t know they are having a heart attack and, consequently, don’t seek medical help until it’s too late.

Years of clinical research indicate that the symptoms of a heart attack can be different in men and women. Recent findings indicate that women are less likely to experience chest pain, or at least to the degree of pain, than men. Nearly half of the women in a recent study experienced no chest pain at all during their heart attack. Shortness of breath and fatigue were cited as their most common symptoms.

Although women can certainly experience chest pain, they must also be aware of less obvious symptoms like nausea, indigestion, palpitations, as well as shortness of breath and back pain.

Sometimes heart attack symptoms are inaccurately attributed to other health issues such as indigestion. This is why it’s so important to have your doctor administer an EKG test or an enzyme blood test.

With this said, the most common heart attack symptoms for men and women include:

  • Discomfort, tightness, uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes…or comes and goes.
  • Crushing chest pain
  • Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw, or arms
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Clammy sweats, heart flutters or paleness
  • Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness, especially with exertion
  • Stomach or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing

More common symptoms in women:

  • Pain in the arm, especially the left arm, back, neck, abdomen or shoulder blades
  • Jaw pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Overwhelming and unusual fatigue, sometimes with shortness of breath
  • Light headedness or sweating.

The good news is you’re never too young or too old to take care of your heart. While you can’t change certain factors, like age and family history, you can lower your risk of heart disease, and ultimately a heart attack, by making healthy life choices and managing health conditions.

What You Can Do to Prevent Heart Disease 

  • Establish a healthy eating plan. Choose foods low in saturated fats, trans fat and sodium. A healthy diet should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich grains, fish, nuts, legumes and seeds. Limit your intake of red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco. When it comes to preventing heart disease, no amount of smoking, including smokeless tobacco, is safe.
  • Regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease…and combining this with a healthy eating plan makes the payoff even greater. Activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator and walking the dog all count. However, you will see bigger benefits by increasing the intensity, duration and frequency of your activity.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight, especially if you carry this extra baggage around your middle, increases your risk of heart disease. Even a small weight loss can be beneficial to your heart health. Reducing your weight by 3 to 5 percent can help decrease your triglycerides and blood sugar, and reduce your risk of diabetes.
  • Get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to more than yawning throughout the day. People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression.

Adults typically require seven to nine hours of sleep each night.  If you wake up without your alarm clock, feeling refreshed, you’re getting enough sleep. Sleep should be a priority in your life.

  • Manage stress. Overeating, drinking or smoking are ways some people cope with stress. Find healthier alternatives such as physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation.
  • Get regular health screenings. Schedule a yearly top-to-bottom physical so you know your numbers – blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

As we move through February, let’s use this month, American Heart Health Month, to raise awareness of heart disease and how we can all do our part to prevent it…at home and in our community.