Maintaining heart health during a catastrophe

When a catastrophic event like Hurricane Sandy occurs, how you cope with the stress it creates can have a significant impact on your health. Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event can create an increase in heart rate and high blood pressure or hypertension in some individuals.

Although stress is not a cause of heart disease, it can play a role in overall wellness. How much stress you feel and how you react to it can lead to a wide variety of health problems.

“Stress does a lot of things to the body. It increases heart rate, blood pressure and can also cause inflammation, too,” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., director of Women and Heart Disease at the Heart and Vascular Institute of North Shore LIJ-Lenox Hill Hospital and national spokesperson for the American Heart Association. “All of which are risk factors for heart disease.”

It is clear stress may affect behaviors and factors that are proven to increase heart disease risks including: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating.

Many were not prepared emotionally for the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, and although not all stress is bad, it is vital to know how to manage negative stress in healthy ways.

“Stress happens. This situation is particularly stressful but there’s nothing we can do about that. We can, however, shape our perception of the situation to manage that stress as much as possible and put ourselves—and our well-being—first,” said Dr.Steinbaum. “Meditation, exercise, connecting with friends and loved ones, and even laughing a little are just a few ways to beat stress during difficult times.”

“With Hurricane Sandy’s fury behind us, now we must focus on healing and recovery. We must make the conscious decision to take care of ourselves and, in turn, take care of our hearts,” said Steinbaum. “Managing stress is one way to do that.”

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