Q: I am 76 years old and try to be mindful about my health. There is a history of heart disease in my family, so I walk with friends and watch what I eat, but I hear more and more about the negative effects stress has on us. I know there’s no way to avoid it, but what can I do?
A: I applaud all that you are doing to care for yourself! Wouldn’t we all like to avoid stress? Everyone feels and reacts to stress in different ways – even stress from happy events like going on vacation or the birth of a grandchild.
How much stress you experience and how you react to it can play a role in your heart health. Heart disease remains the country’s number one cause of death, and for women it accounts for a third of all deaths.
The good news is that you can take steps today to identify the sources of stress in your life and look for ways to reduce and manage them. February is American Heart Month, and the American Heart Association offers these tips to manage your stress:
1. Positive self-talk. We all talk to ourselves, but what we say makes a difference. Negative self-talk increases stress. Positive self-talk can help you calm down and manage stress. With practice, you can learn to shift negative thoughts to positive ones. Instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” tell yourself “I got this. I will do my best.”
2. Find ways to diffuse stress in the moment. Count to 10 or take deep breaths before responding. Go for a walk. Meditate or pray for a few minutes. Break that big problem down into small pieces and take them one at a time.
3. Do things that make you feel good. Make a habit of doing things that make you happy (and they don’t’ have to take a lot of time). Phone or text a friend. Read a book. Snuggle with your pet. Spend time on that puzzle. Take a yoga, tai chi, or tai ji quan class.
4. Talk to your doctor. Discuss your stress level, family history, and any other concerns you have. It’s proactive way to learn what else you may do to protect your heart health.
Combining de-stressors like these with other healthy habits can go a long way toward strengthening your heart. It’s also important to note that drinking alcohol frequently and smoking can actually make stress worse. A health care professional can also help you find ways to manage your stress.
We offer exercise and healthy eating programming through our Healthy Living Center of Excellence that may be of interest to you. You can find more information here: https://healthyliving4me.org/programs/
I encourage you to try some of these techniques to help you get you started. And if one approach doesn’t work for you, just try something new. Good luck!
Are you caring for an older adult or need help finding resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.agespan.org for more information. You can also call us at 800-892-0890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of AgeSpan.
First published in the Eagle-Tribune.