AFib and Emotional Wellness
AFib and Emotional Wellness
What’s the connection between AFib and stress?
The “triggers” for AFib episodes are still being investigated, but stress is likely to play a role for some people. Research suggests that approximately 54% of people who have intermittent or come-and-go episodes of AFib point to psychological stress as their most common trigger (source).
The relationship between AFib and stress is probably a complicated one; we know AFib is a complex medical problem. Stress probably creates a chain reaction of events in the body, and when combined with individual health and physiology factors, it can be enough to prompt episodes of AFib. Because many different types of stress are common aspects of life, people living with AFib benefit from being aware of stress and taking specific strategies to deal with it.
Here you’ll find a set of strategies you can use to reduce the effects of stress.
Know Your Condition and Share Your Journey
Learning more about your condition allows you to better communicate your needs to family, friends, and healthcare providers. Being an educated partner in your condition and treatment is empowering. If you don’t have the answers, ask your healthcare provider to advise you or point you in the right direction so you can learn more and get answers to your questions.
Be Mindful of Your Emotional Health
Some people living with AFIb feel very alone in dealing with their condition and making treatment decisions, and at times it may feel that worry or fears loom large. However, you may find it comforting to know that you are not alone. Most people with heart conditions experience at least some periods of fear or even sadness and depression as they try to adjust and cope with a new and unwanted reality. Talking with your health professional about these concerns is another part of complete health care.
It’s also important to know that although at times our emotions are in the “driver’s seat,” we can also influence our emotions so that we minimize the chances of getting stuck in an emotional rut by using techniques for stress management.
What is Stress Management?
Ever notice that a good laugh has a way of lightening your burdens? Or maybe you’ve had a day that has felt completely stressful and overwhelming, but then you coach yourself to step away from the frenzy, collect your thoughts, make a list of what’s going on and prioritize what’s important. Has your list ever helped you discover that perhaps your day is more manageable than it seemed? If so, then stepping away or creating a list may be one of your stress management strategies.
Or maybe you usually go walking with a friend before you start your work day. The week seems entirely too busy and stressful to fit in such “frivolities.” But you decide that instead of skipping it, you’ll go ahead and walk. Afterwards, you notice it was good for you physically, socially, and emotionally and as you sit down to begin your work day, you notice you actually feel more able to conquer the day’s list of tasks.
Learn to “Pump the Brakes” on Stress
Laughter, physical activity and organizing your thoughts can be effective stress-management techniques. But something as simple as a short break can also be effective. Dr. Robert Sapolsky, stress expert and neurology professor at Stanford, says we all need to commit to regular stress management and learn how to “pump the brakes” on stress without loading it onto other people.
This is especially true for people living with AFib because stress can lead to “flare ups” for some people and the AFib episodes can increase the sense of stress.
The Purpose of Stress
Emotions are our body’s signals to help us recognize problems. Stress hormones help us fight-or-flee when we are in danger. But our body’s stress response can become a problem when it constantly signals danger about issues that aren’t necessarily a threat, or it grows to the point of increasing symptoms or overwhelming our health, well-being or clear thinking.
Why Practice Stress Management?
Your mind deserves better than to be loaded down with the never-ending job of worrying! When thinking about your AFib, it may help you to realize that some stress can be beneficial and may lead to actual problem-solving or appointment-making, but a lot of our stress is unnecessary and even harmful. Research is clear that stressed-out brains do not operate the same way as non-stressed brains.
John Medina, Ph.D., director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, says creativity, productivity, motivation and even your immune system can all suffer under chronic stress.
How Do We Learn to Manage Our Stress?
Step 1: Awareness! Learn about your “Low Zone.”
Stress has a way of becoming chronic when we allow the worries of everyday living to weigh us down. We can sometimes become acutely tuned in to stress, and when it becomes our focus, we allow whatever is currently the most stressful problem to dictate what we will do each day. Everyone needs pleasure, productivity and creativity in their lives and remaining in a state of chronic stress robs us of these.
Take a look at this continuum :
1 — I’m creatively and cheerfully engaged in my life.
2 — I’m basically relaxed and expect to stay this way.
3–5 — I can handle incoming stresses and think of positive solutions and options for my challenges.
6–7 — I’m moderately irritable, anxious or overwhelmed, and my stresses feel burdensome.
8 — My problems seem unsolvable. Many things are irritating or upsetting me.
9 — Help! I’m about to lose it!
10 — I have chart-topping negative emotions
Where do you put yourself now? How do you know when you’ve passed the moderate point? Identify for yourself the small changes you can detect in your mood as you move up the continuum. This may take a few days of observing yourself, but if you are like most people (and chances are good that you are!), your stress level will climb in a predictable pattern. If you take time to learn your emotional cues, you can learn to regulate your stress so that you spend more of your time in the “low zone” (at numbers 1-5).
But you don’t know how stressful my life is!
Clearly some people have more stressful environments than others, and living with a chronic condition like AFib can push you to become very skilled at using your strategies for emotional balance. People living in chronically high-stress situations will likely pay a toll for it unless they learn to manage stress and improve their quality of life.
For example, the stress of becoming a caregiver often results in health difficulties and emotional health challenges. If you are a caregiver, it’s especially important that you learn stress-management skills so that you can keep yourself in the “low zone,” find ways to enjoy your life and allow your caregiving to have moments of satisfaction and joy.
Step 2: Learn to Live in the Low Zone.
Once you’ve passed the midzone mark into the high-stress zone, it’s time to take a stress-management moment. Maybe that means that you call a friend, take a short 5 minute walk outdoors, remind yourself of what you can and cannot change or keep a funny book on hand that you can visit when you need a laugh. Whatever works best for you, take the time to bring your stress level back toward the “low zone.” Notice what happens to your body and mind when you take these breaks.
The Benefits of Low-Zone Living
The benefits of low zone living are plentiful! You’ll feel more creative, more alive, and more able to enjoy small moments of happiness. You may find that your symptoms improve when you do! Furthermore, you reserve your “high zone stress responses” for times when it’s most appropriate.
So make time each day to enjoy the gifts of life and practice putting aside stresses whenever you can. Use your body’s stress cues to ask yourself if you need to take action for your physical health or if perhaps it’s best to take action for your mental health at this particular time.