Some stress in natural; too much is a problem.
We can’t alleviate all stress, and we wouldn’t want to even if we could. Some stress is natural and necessary; it is what gives us the zing of energy to get things done. The zing is the result of the hormone cortisol flooding the system when the body detects danger or stress. Cortisol quickens reactions, increases pulse and blood pressure, and even thickens the blood (to prevent bleeding to death in case of injury).
Trouble comes when that zing becomes a constant thrum, continually triggering the cortisol response rather than allowing it to ebb and flow as we need it. Thicker blood, higher blood pressure, and increased pulse all make the heart work harder, which is why prolonged high stress doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cortisol isn’t the enemy.
Keeping my heart healthy and protecting it from stress aren’t abstract ideas for me—they’re literally life-or-death skills. When I had a massive heart attack at the young age of 35 while 7 months pregnant with twins, I underwent five hours of open-heart surgery after delivering my daughters prematurely via emergency C-section. The surgeon repaired my heart, but a small part of it doesn’t beat anymore. Even though my pregnancy caused the heart attack, I am at a higher risk of having another, so controlling my risk factors is essential. I can manage my diet and be physically active, but stress is an exponential multiplier of risk I simply can’t afford. To reduce my heightened risk of having another heart attack, I’ve spent the 17 years since then honing practical and implementable strategies to manage stress for myself and the thousands of audience members and readers I reach each year.
High cortisol levels caused by stress reduce productivity and limit critical thought.
Our hardwired reaction to feeling unsafe is to protect ourselves and avoid pain. One of the most disastrous effects of chronic high stress is that it blocks critical and creative thought. In other words, the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking is busy dealing with the perceived risk of an unpredictable situation. Our brains don’t multitask; they focus on only one thing at a time and then have to switch to the next task. This task-switching not only impedes productivity, but it also creates a paralyzing loop of anxiety.
All of that is bad. But there is good news:
Your body is naturally equipped to process cortisol out of your system if you let it.
Effectively processes cortisol, reducing it to normal levels, which in turn protects the heart, helps you feel better, and even allows your brain to function better.