Stop. Don’t move. Direct your attention to your shoulders. Where are they — are they in a relaxed position, or are they hunched up toward your ears? Now move your attention to the muscles in your face. Are your features loose? Are your eyebrows drawn together in a scowl? Think about your feet. Are they relaxed or rigid? Now take a deep breath and let your whole body go limp as you slowly release it. How different do you feel? How many muscles just relaxed? If you’re like most of us, you probably didn’t even realize that your muscles were contracted; you were unaware of the stress you were experiencing.
We spend so much time immersed in stress that we don’t notice the visible signs. But our bodies do — and they react. When you sit in traffic, watch the news or wait in line, your body responds to your mental irritation by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, raising your heart rate, constricting your blood vessels and raising your blood pressure. But this reaction is counter-productive: your body is preparing you to confront the source of your stress, but there’s nothing you can really do.
When this condition becomes chronic — when you are stressed most of the day — the increase in blood pressure and heart rate can damage the artery walls, change the way blood clots, and weaken the immune system. The psychological ramifications of stress can manifest in coping behaviors: overeating, drinking, smoking, arguing and isolating ourselves from others. These responses become a cycle that can lead to depression and chronic poor health.
Recognition is the First Step
The first step in reducing the stress response is recognizing both the situations that create stress and how stress feels. Because stress has become a constant presence in our lives, we don’t usually feel it until it becomes intense: a headache, a sick stomach or a rapid heartbeat. But by the time these physical symptoms manifest, the stress has been building for some time.
At the Texas Center for Preventive Cardiology we use a range of tools and approaches to help patients recognize stress long before it takes a physical toll. From simple, common-sense measures like recognizing the signals your body sends to electronic devices that provide detailed, real-time diagnostics, we equip patients with methods for recognizing stress when it’s still at a low level.
Recognizing stress levels is a critical first step. But once you understand the amount of stress you are carrying, its causes and effects, what do you do? At the Texas Center for Preventive Cardiology, we do much more than diagnose; we provide solutions that can help you change the way you respond to stressful events, improving your long-term health.
Step Two: Controlling Stress
Some people seem to take life’s unexpected turns in stride. Others become overwhelmed by situations and setbacks. Our stressful environments are not the cause of our stress; we develop stress through how we respond to events. The key to stress reduction is changing the way we interpret and react, practicing coping strategies and relaxation therapies that can be employed as the changing needs of the day dictate.
At the Texas Center for Preventive Cardiology, we provide a wide range of opportunities, therapies and tools that can help any patient better cope with daily stress. From devices that teach you how to intentionally recognize stress responses to simple techniques and games that can decrease heart rate and blood pressure, we work with our clients to apply stress reduction methods that they find appealing and functional, and that align with their lifestyles and preferences.
Too often, modern medicine is thought of as a hammer, and every patient as a nail. The result is a series of prescriptions, with little else offered that might improve the quality of life. At the Texas Center for Preventive Cardiology, we believe in producing a balanced approach that often includes traditional medication, but also takes advantage of the latest research and technologies, providing each client with a variety of options and tools. For many patients, this may result in a decrease in the need for medication and a decreased risk of major health events, including heart attack and stroke.
Medicine is not simple cause-and-effect; it is a complex balancing of daily life and long-term goals. This approach is the core of preventive cardiology: the practice of medicine engaging the practice of life.