Managing stress

Interested in the link between stress and heart disease? Find out more and learn tips to manage your stress levels.

Gentleman working long hours

It is normal to experience some level of stress, anxiety and worry. But when you are stressed out, anxious or worried for long periods of time (longer than three months), it can seriously affect your health. 

Long-term stress means that you constantly have a higher level of adrenaline in your body, increasing your blood sugar, your blood pressure and making your muscles tense. This increases your risk of heart attack or stroke.

The first step in dealing with stress is to recognise how you are feeling. Stress can affect people in different ways. Do you recognise yourself in the following signs of stress?

  • I eat all the time
  • I feel restless
  • I've lost my appetite
  • I feel butterflies in my stomach
  • I spend most of the time worrying
  • I feel bad-tempered, grumpy and miserable
  • I have no energy
  • I don't want to go out
  • I feel tense
  • I can't concentrate
  • I can't make decisions
  • I don't enjoy things like I used to
  • I feel weak, short of breath, sweaty and shaky
  • I feel sad and tearful
  • I don't sleep well
  • I feel tired all the time
  • I'm afraid to be left alone
  • I just want to sleep all the time
  • I get sudden feelings of intense fear or dread.

If you think you might be depressed, you can find NZ information and support at https://depression.org.nz/

There is still a lot that we do not know about how stress affects the body. What we do know is that stress increases your adrenaline levels. Adrenaline is a substance that kick-starts the body so that you can respond quickly. Among other things, adrenaline:

  • Increases your blood sugar levels
  • Makes you breathe faster so you get extra oxygen
  • Makes your heart beat faster.

A good place to start is by asking yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, how important it is to you to manage your stress (1 being not important and 10 being very important). You can use the change gauge below to help you decide.

If it is important to you to manage your stress, you may like to:  

  • Ask some friends or family/whānau to be a support network for you, and talk with them about ways they can encourage you to manage your stress
  • Talk to your doctor or nurse about relaxation exercises that may help you. Relaxation and breathing exercises affect certain chemicals in your body and can help you feel calm
  • Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of using medications to manage your stress
  • Consider what motivates you to manage your health
  • Consider what you’re willing to do to improve your health.
  • Talk about what you are feeling (with your partner, a close friend or family member) 
  • Do some exercise everyday. Getting out into the fresh air and being active can really help to lift your mood. You can start with something simple like a ten minute walk 
  • Plan some activities that you enjoy or make you feel good, for example, walking on the beach or reading a book. Decide which of these activities you want to do each day. Be realistic. It is better to do something you are able to do rather than to feel bad because you’ve tried to do too much.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse for help. They may be able to teach you some breathing exercises or offer medications to help with your stress.

Take a look at some of the questions other people have had about managing stress, and see if any may be helpful for you to ask your health professional:

  • What options do I have for managing my stress?
  • Which of the options to lower my stress will best fit into my life?
  • What are the benefits and risks of each option for me?
  • Has this helped anyone else?
  • Where can I get support?

Are there any other questions you have that you would like to ask?   

If you are worried about how stress is affecting your heart, there are steps you can take today to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke:

*Please talk to your doctor before exploring this option

Learn more about your risk of a heart attack