The heart is arguably the most important organ in our body. Without it there would be no life. It pumps blood, and therefore nutrients, to all parts of the body and removes carbon dioxide and waste from it. Throughout our life we hear mention of following your heart, having a change of heart or a broken heart. Girls draw hearts in their school books and some even dot their i’s with it, so doesn’t it make you wonder why we don’t take care of something so predominant in our life?
Life stresses, depression, anxiety, diet and lifestyle all have a direct effect on the heart’s health and function, and although it may not be possible to get rid of the cause, one can always try to prevent the knock-on effect.
Listen to your heart
Stress releases adrenalin, which increases the heart rate to pump blood faster; this speeds up breathing to get more oxygen into the lungs but also increases blood pressure, and increases sugar to the muscles for energy. The stress hormones also increase the blood’s clotting function in case you get injured.
This response is great when used in the right place, but an angry mama bear isn’t the only thing that give your body this response. The brain isn’t always so clever. It can’t tell the difference between “I’ve got to run from this wild animal or be eaten stress” and “I want to punch this person in the nose stress”. Your body responds in the same way – fight or flight. We constantly bombard our body with this adrenalin release. Workplace stress, financial stress, family stress is all linked to increased heart attacks.
Use your head
There are many methods of overcoming stress using meditation, exercise, hobbies and certainly getting enough sleep helps, but be careful of the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Alcohol, sugar and television although they may seem relaxing, are stimulants. Alcohol can sedate you and increases dopamine, which makes you feel happy. But that’s a good thing right? So you want to drink more but this also causes the release of other neurotransmitters which cause the feelings of depression. This in turn could also cause feelings of anger and aggression, all of which trigger stress and everything that goes with it. In reality you’re not doing yourself any favours. Sugar is also great at making us feel better but we have a diet high in refined sugar. This means it lacks any nutrition and is just glucose. When pure glucose is released into the body you get a release of insulin which stores this glucose as fat until it can be used. This then causes as sugar crash making us feel “hangry”, depressed, upset, confused, and want more sugar. In the words of Star Wars’ Admiral Ackbar: ”It’s a trap”.
TV? Yes I did say that. Surveys done in the USA found that on average, a person will spend just under 5 hours a day watching TV. That’s 5 hours of the news telling you how bad people are, adverts showing you things you want but can’t afford or that you will die and your family shouldn’t have to pay for your funeral expenses. Relaxing? 5 hours you could have spent with your children playing with dolls or dragons and being a carefree child again. 5 hours you could have spent learning a new hobby or language or laughing with your friends that you now only really spend time with on social media. Not only that, but the light from the TV stimulates your brain way past it’s normal shut off time and by the time you get into bed, you’re still awake and now consider yourself an insomniac. So no, unless you spent those 5 hours enjoying every moment, it wasn’t relaxing.
Feed your body
Dealing with your stress isn’t as easy as being stressed. Make sure your body has the right nutrients to cope with what it is going through.
Oats – Try working oats into your daily diet. Not only does it have a positive effect on the nervous system, it also contains beta glucans which have been proven to reduce cholesterol
Green tea – Contains polyphenols, good for brain and heart function, as well as dopamine (kind of happy hormone) production
Raw Chocolate – Chocolate makes you happy. It has been scientifically proven that cacao raises the level of serotonin (another happy hormone) in the brain and therefore acts as an anti-depressant, promoting an overall sense of well-being but not all chocolate is the same. Cocoa although beneficial contains some benefits. Cacao- the raw version – contains a whole host of nutrients, antioxidants and all of which help reduce anxiety.
Omega 3’s – these reduce inflammation including that which is caused in brain cells by stress, improves circulation and mood, and are just generally an important ingredient to add to your diet
Green Leafy Vegetables – These are often rich in Folate (a type of B vitamin) and Magnesium, both which help with the heart and nervous system
Supplements – Adaptogenic herbs help you cope with stress better so look out for formulas that include herbs such as:
• Siberian Ginseng – One of the most researched of adaptogens, Siberian Ginseng helps support adrenal and nerve health. This boosts energy but strengthens the adrenal glands making you feel more alert but less stressed.
• Hawthorn – This herb has been used for stress related heart problems. Hawthorn has been found to increase the blood circulation but not increase the blood pressure. It has been used by herbalist to treat panic attacks, chest pains related to stress and some more serious heart conditions as well as for reducing hot flushes
• Rhodiola Root – Helps to increase your tolerance of various stresses (your urge to punch isn’t so great as your adrenal output is more controlled).
• Ashwagandha – Sanskrit Ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb imparts the vigour and strength of a stallion. Ashwagandha is frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties, even though botanically, ginseng and Ashwagandha are unrelated.
Some brands are better than others so do your research before making a purchase.
Some of my favourite supplements to recommend for stress and anxiety are:
Terranova Vitamin B Complex –
B vitamins are essential for the nervous system and depleted during times of stress. Vitamin B 6 and Folate have been seen to reduce risk of heart disease.
Combined with these essential nutrients are Rhodiola Root, Siberian Ginseng and Ashwagandha
Higher Nature Balance for Nerves-
This also contains the B vitamins but with added Magnesium, Theanine, Lemon balm, Passion flower and Taurine. I find this particularly good formula for the types of stress that make you feel like you can’t cope and you want to burst into tears when someone asks: “how are you?” .
A.Vogel Hawthorn Garlic Complex –
Hawthorn and Garlic have long been used for helping with blood pressure and heart health. Passionflower is a great addition to this and has been seen to boost “happy hormones” as well as being trialled as a muscle relaxant.