Stressed out?!?! Learn How to Cope

Stressed out?!?! Learn How to Cope

Depression, anxiety, and major stressful events are known to be harmful to health. Several studies have linked stress with heart disease, showing that emotional reactions to stressful events can cause a person’s normally self-regulated nervous system to go off track and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.

Although daily hassles, frustration, and disruptions are common and often unavoidable, how we respond to even minor stressors is important for our health. To get a better understanding of the health consequences of daily stressors, biobehavioral researchers at Penn State and Columbia University wanted to find out if heart rate variability (a person’s ability to automatically adjust their own heartbeat in response to what’s going on in daily life) was related to stress. Higher heart rate variability is better for health because it reflects a person’s ability to cope and respond to daily challenges. Lower heart rate variability is associated with higher risk for heart failure.

Dr. Nancy Sin and colleagues analyzed test results and interviews from over 900 adults. The researchers found that people who reported a lot of stressful events in their lives were not necessarily those who had lower heart rate variability. The number of stressful events each person faced did not even seem to matter. Instead, it was those who perceived the events as more stressful or experienced a greater spike in negative emotions that had lower heart rate variability.

This study suggests that people who are not as good at effectively coping with stress experience negative emotions and intense sensitivity to daily struggles that puts them at greater risk for heart disease. So, it’s not necessarily all the stressful things than happen in a day, but how you respond to them that counts.

Believe it or not, this is good news! While we can’t always avoid daily stressors, we can learn to cope with them more effectively and reduce the effect they have on our health.

Protect your health by using your effective stress coping skills for daily hassles.

Or learn some new ones!

  • Use relaxation training, like progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation.
  • Get plenty of sleep and exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Discover and change negative thoughts or points of view that are causing and prolonging stress.
  • Make time for activities and people that you enjoy.
  • Remember stressful events that you successfully coped with in the past and repeat what worked before.

Journal reference: Nancy L. Sin, Richard P. Sloan, Paula S. McKinley, David M. Almeida. (2016). Linking Daily Stress Processes and Laboratory-Based Heart Rate Variability in a National Sample of Midlife and Older Adults. Psychosomatic Medicine, Published Ahead of Print, 9 February 2016.