I could have had a heart attack today.
That’s probably an exaggeration. But here it is low-90s in this God-forsaken part of the world (South Carolina) in August, and guess who has to mow. It has been raining for maybe 18 out of the last 21 days, so the opportunity to mow my 1/2 acre is very limited. My riding mower is on the fritz, so there I was “push-mowing.”
With the heat index in Climate Change Central, it was over 100 degrees. As well, the grass was like 5-6 inches high and wet. It was a slog, man. It was war and I was taking heavy casualties. I had to turn the mower over and dig all the wet, compacted grass off the sides of the mower, lest it stall out. It was sweat dripping into my eyes; it was dirt and wetness; it was exhaustion.
There is a distinct and real connection between hostility, obsession, stress and heart attack risk. Studies validate this. It’s amazing, really, since we tend to think of arterial occlusion as being about eating too many eggs and such. One’s attitude makes a difference not only in health and well-being but literally, life and death.
As this article from the American Psychological Association shows, hostility is a better predictor of coronary heart disease (CHD) in older men than a variety of other sociodemographic and physiological risk factors, including smoking, drinking, high caloric intake and high levels of LDL cholesterol, according to a new study published in Health Psychology (Vol. 21, No. 6). Clearly there is something to stress and heart attack risk. It’s amazing but true. In a very simplified form:
STRESS —-> CORTISOL USAGE —–> INFLAMMATION —–> IMPROPER PRODUCTION OF CHOLESTEROL —–> POSSIBLE HEART ATTACK or other unwelcome outcomes
It is wise to not get obsessed over things, to not “sweat the small stuff”, to not worry unnecessarily, to not stress yourself out, to not indulge hostility, and to keep anger in check. It is also wise to fill one’s cup with the positive, such as mindfulness, relaxation training, meditation, massage, optimism, biofeedback, and hobbies that distract and de-focus (travel, exercise, etc.).
“Don’t sweat the small stuff — and it’s all small stuff. ~ H. Jackson Browne, Jr.
I was also pissed during my mowing adventure because my neighbor took a machete (or his lawnmower) to my grass day before yesterday. He should have his head examined for mowing as badly as he did. It is an atrocious job. His John Deere kicked out like two 50-gallon barrels full of wet and decaying grass (it had been 36 hours before I got to clean it up). There I was, bending over, over and over again, cleaning up stuff, lamenting my scalped job, probably muttering “That sonofabitch!” and “Woe is me!”
That kind of hostility and the stress hormones such as cortisol (a class of neurotransmitters called glucocorticoids) plus the heat and humidity and the physical strain could literally have killed me. I think I forgot or didn’t care at the time about the stress and heart attack risk connection.
Ok, full disclosure, I’m a perfectionist and I tend to “run hot.” I pretty much hate yard work, and I detest incompetence. Though I sweated oh probably 4 cups of water and used up about all my electrolytes, I am happy to report I made it. It was a gruesome 60 minutes, though.
I did what any writer would do – sat down to write it out. I need to be careful because I am a bit hard-driving, type A, perfectionistic, and mid-40s. As well, my father had a heart attack and bypass surgery. My doctor reports that my cholesterol is too high and suggests a statin drug. I suppose I have other protective factors in addition to those risk factors, such as not smoking, moderate drinking, a diet that includes vitamins and minerals and fiber and kale, and a pleasant enough/air-conditioned environment to go chill in afterward.
As one can see from this blog about mindfulness training in prison, it is best to be aware of the stress and heart attack risk connection, and relax the mind. The human brain can literally kill you if you’re not careful.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it. And this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Self-improvement has much to do with values. So I claim in a blog available HERE.
I want to share a few quotations about obsession, hostility, anger, worry, “type-A behavior”, and maladaptive responses to stress and heart attack risk. Be safe my friends!
We live well enough to have the luxury to get ourselves sick with purely social, psychological stress.
Get out of that I-must-control-everything mindset, and learn to go with the flow. Letting go of the need to control isn’t easy; but with practice, we can learn to do it. And in so doing, we will begin to experience a more relaxed state of mind.
Emotional regulation — the ability to modulate emotional responses and stay even-keeled in the face of conflict or stress — has emerged as a key coping mechanism in older adults. That’s not to say that this capacity is inevitably and only shaped by early-life events; it does suggest, however, that the emotional circuitry of the primate brain can be re-engineered by early experience, so that this aspect of wisdom can, in some cases, legitimately claim very early roots.
If religion is a stress reducer—and the data suggest overwhelmingly that it can be a powerful one—then we should expect religiously committed people, on average, to have lower rates of disease. One does not have to invoke divine intervention to explain this outcome.
Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.
The wise man thinks about his troubles only when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times he thinks about other things, or, if it is night, about nothing at all.
Being open to and accepting our emotions allows us to sit quietly in the present. And then we experience something remarkable that is the key to living at ease with time: In the moment, there is no stress.
Like a bee in a flower bed, the human brain naturally flits from one thought to the next. In the high-speed workplace, where data and deadlines come thick and fast, we are all under pressure to think quickly. Reaction, rather than reflection is the order of the day. To make the most of our time, and to avoid boredom, we fill up every spare moment with mental stimulation. When did you last sit in a chair, close your eyes and just relax?
While we are subject to anxiety, we are to that extent unable to conceive in imagination how existence would be “outside” that anxiety.
We have bigger homes, cars, televisions, bellies, and credit lines, yet we have less time to enjoy life. We need to establish a culture that celebrates renewal, relaxation, and leisure, one that supports those who need to slow down and work less.
Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.
Mindfulness meditation is a retraining of the mind by the mind. It is the cultivation of new thought patterns and new mental behaviors that liberate us from our addictions to dualistic thinking and conditioned reactions. While there is pain in our lives that is unavoidable, there is a certain amount of suffering that we create for ourselves, because of our attitudes, our false perceptions, our prejudices. Mindfulness sweeps over the mental landscape and clears it of those mines that could explode into “thought disasters” if we’re not cautious or conscious.
If I had to define a major depression in a single sentence, I would describe it as a genetic/neurochemical disorder requiring a strong environmental trigger whose characteristic manifestation is an inability to appreciate sunsets.
Avoid stress and heart attack risk. HERE are some tips.
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