Learning how to relax is a multistep process
While atrial fibrillation symptoms can differ from person to person, stress is almost a universal trigger of heart palpitations, uncomfortable adrenaline rushes, and the muscle tension that AFib brings. In turn, every sufferer can benefit from a better rest and relaxation cycle.
Relaxation is a major part of any stress reduction routine, but there are other elements to consider, too. First, learn why stress reduction should be a top priority, then begin to restore your body’s balance and function with some clear and straightforward methods to alleviate tension.
More stress means more complications
In a study of 100 patients with intermittent AFib, the impact of stress was clear: 54% of participants reported that not only was stress a concern, but it was the cause of a majority of their attacks.
At the best of times, stress is simply an annoyance, but as it builds, it can lead to more significant problems. For some, stress triggers depression and general anxiety, and if left unchecked, these can counteract all your best efforts to control your AFib. After all, dwelling on AFib symptoms and the fact that they could strike again will feed anxiety, and anxiety will feed your symptoms.
Choose healthy relaxation techniques
Clearly, stress must be controlled for a good quality of life. One of the simplest ways to stop tension from building up in your body and mind is through healthy daily habits.
Start with a healthy diet. Fortunately, there are plenty of heart-healthy foods that are also known to combat stress – focus on getting some of these into your diet:
- Nuts (unsalted)
While it’s unclear whether certain foods can immediately bring down your stress level, some things are known to push it up. Caffeine is the most common culprit, as it stimulates your nervous system, but sugar and other simple carbs will lead to fluctuating blood sugar levels that can leave you feeling moody and on edge, too.
Exercise goes a long way. Regular exercise is great at reducing stress, but prioritize frequency over intensity. Your doctor will be able to give you guidelines that will help you stay in a safe zone when you’re working out. Brisk walking or gentle cycling can be a good place to begin. Find an activity that keeps your muscles moving without causing you to strain or lose your breath and commit to making it a part of your daily or weekly routine.
Good sleep is a good habit. There’s no substitution for the rejuvenating power of a good sleep. In fact, it’s so important that even a single night of poor sleep can affect memory, mood, and judgment. Take some time to improve your sleep setting: clear away the clutter in your bedroom, adjust the light levels for optimum comfort, and avoid stimulating activities right before bed (try leaving your cell phone in another room overnight).
Avoid self medicating
It’s natural to try to ease your discomfort with easy and immediate remedies, but when you live with AFib, you should be extra careful about using these common relaxants:
Alcohol doesn’t mix well with AFib. You’ve probably heard that a glass of red wine is good for your heart, but that’s not always the case. Even a small amount of alcohol can trigger AFib symptoms in some people, and too much can interfere with sleep and leave you feeling worn out and irritable. Learn more about AFib and alcohol here.
Herbal supplements aren’t always safe. Many supplements may seem harmless, but beware of herbal remedies: some can interfere with common anticoagulants, which are often prescribed for heart conditions. If you’re taking the blood thinner warfarin, don’t brew any herbal teas or take any natural vitamins before discussing it with your doctor.
Be proactive, not reactive
When you feel in control, your confidence grows, and you may find you’re more emotionally resilient. In turn, it’s important to take an active role in your treatment: read up on AFib symptoms and the latest research in available treatments, and talk to your doctor regularly about your own AFib management. Understanding what your body is going through, and what you can do about it, will help you stay upbeat and in control.
Behavioral training can help. Learning certain techniques to retrain your brain and body can have amazing effects on your health. Regular meditation can reduce stress in the short- and long-term: read up on mindfulness meditation and get in deep touch with your breathing by practicing yoga.
Progressive muscle relaxation is another handy technique that you can use easily in any environment. Simply contract and relax each muscle group one at a time, from your head to your toes or vice versa, to manually trigger a state of deep relaxation. Patience is key, and it will pay off.
If you’re looking for some more hands-on guidance to reduce stress, consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The theory behind this treatment is that there’s a two-way relationship between thoughts and behaviors: by learning to identify and question your thoughts during upsetting situations, you can begin to stand back and consider the situation from other perspectives. Ultimately, CBT can help you develop remarkably effective coping strategies to limit the acute and chronic effects of stress and anxiety.
Focus on the long term
Instead of saving relaxation techniques for stressful times, schedule stress relief into your daily and weekly routine. Some days you might not feel like carving out time to sit quietly or work out your tension with a trip to the gym, but you’ll thank yourself later. A habit takes about a month to form – start now, and you might be pleasantly surprised at how far you’ve come in just a few weeks.
If these measures aren’t doing much to quell your anxiety, don’t suffer through the discomfort alone. Talk to your doctor or get a referral to a specialist who can help determine hidden problems or triggers that may need more attention before you can make real gains.