Lately, I’ve been struggling with pericarditis. The American Heart Association says that “Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, two thin layers of a sac-like tissue that surrounds the heart, holds it in place and helps it work. A small amount of fluid keeps the layers separate so that there’s no friction between them. A common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain, caused by the sac’s layers becoming inflamed and possibly rubbing against the heart. “
The pain started in mid-October, after a summer of exercise and feeling wonderful. The beginning of the school year was also great. However, it was October 12, that I started feeling crummy. My youngest daughter, Sadie, missed an entire week of school with pneumonia and apparently, she shared it with me. The cause of pericarditis is often unknown, though viral infections are a common cause. It often occurs after a respiratory infection.
After two visits to the ER and several tests, my cardiologist told me that since I’ve visited with her and the ER doctors about this same thing several times since my open-heart surgery, it looks like I’ll need a medication to help prevent getting it. In addition to the treatment, I need rest and self-care. My focus lately has been stress management and I’m going to now practice deep breathing more often to increase oxygen to my lungs as wells and help relax/manage stress.
It’s funny. I’ve had a great start to the school year. My students are wonderful, very supportive, and talented. In fact, the musical has been the least stressful that I’ve ever directed. It was as if I had never been sick. I even lost 13 pounds and walked the Austin Heart Walk 5k. My new podcast gained over 1100 listeners. Now it seems as though, I hit a will and bam…someone shares a virus with me and my body shuts down. Ha! I’m listening. I get it.
This is a big reminder that being healthy is a choice. Wellness is something I have to seek after daily. I can’t assume that because things are going well that I can back off healthy eating and getting exercise. Lesson Learned.
Last mont I told you about the three hormones that are produced when you are experiencing stress. Adrenaline, Norepinephrine, and Cortisol.
Our bodies make the hormones to help us, but sometimes things a that are meant for good can be used for bad! Our world and circumstances create such a crazy sense of overwhelming that our bodies get confused.
Dr Arien van der Merwe (GP and Stress Management consultant) warns that most, if not all, diseases have their foundations in prolonged and ill-managed stress. This, together with a predisposing genetic defect that determines the weak link in the body, will, for example, lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer, slower recovery after operations and infections, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, asthma, eczema and many other disorders.
Because there are so many different manifestations of stress build-up, stress is often not recognized as the cause of illness. Worse still, once identified, many try to ignore it, fearing it is a sign of weakness. Listen to me! It is not a sign of weakness!
So one way to manage stress is to incorporate the E-Word in to your life. Now wait. Don’t stop reading because you know the E-Word is exercise. It’s not a bad word and it doesn’t have to be difficult to incorporate it into your life.
Here’s why we need to exercise. Have you ever thought about how exercise can help with stress management? Most of us hear that, but have never really truly thought about it.
Exercise keeps your muscles, including our hearts, strong, but it also lowers our blood sugar levels and helps to lower cholesterol.
One of the greatest things it can do is help you clear your mind. We can gain clarity because when we are out moving, our mind has no distractions. Talking walking for instance. When all you hear are the sounds of the outdoors, your footsteps, your music, or an audio book, your brain has nothing to do but relax. Yes. Your brain can relax.
When you are exercising in a class like yoga or dance your brain is focused on specific moves. You don’t have time to think about the stressful situation that is overwhelming you.
On a deeper level, Norepinephrine is released when we exercise. I told you last week that its job is to create awareness. It makes your brain more alert so that when we have stressful situations, we can think clearly and react.
Remember that scene in Legally Blonde, where Elle Woods is trying to help Brook Wyndham, her sorority sister, without giving away her alibi? Elle says, “I just don't think that Brooke could've done this. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't.
Well, this is actually a mostly true statement. Exercise does create endorphins and endorphins create the opposite of stress! Endorphins work in our bodies to create a sense of satisfaction. The more you exercise the more endorphins your body creates so the endorphins crowd out the stressful feelings replacing them with feelings of happiness.
During exercise endorphins are secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides that activate the body's opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect. This means that they nature painkillers. You see, an analgesic relieve pain. It acts as a sedative. That’s why people often say they get a “high” from running. It is the release of endorphins that …
I also told you last week that adrenaline preps your body to react to a threat. The problem is that in 21st century, we don’t do a lot of running away from stressful situations. If we did, you would see a lot more people running out of office buildings and more teachers running away from school. The key actions of adrenaline include increasing the heart rate, increasing blood pressure, expanding the air passages of the lungs, enlarging the pupil in the eye, redistributing blood to the muscles and altering the body's metabolism, so as to maximize blood glucose. When adrenaline sits in our bodies without being used it is deposited at fat in our arteries. UGH.
So exercise uses up that adrenaline and helps your body release it.
I’m going to recommend that you get up and get moving. Now, I’m not saying to go run a marathon….I’m not even saying you need to run. Start with walking, swimming, or dancing. Make it fun. Any cardio exercise is going to use up that adrenaline and create some endorphins.
Another good mind clearing adrenaline user is exercise is yoga. It is low impact and uses up the adrenaline in our muscles.
Wilhelm von Humboldt, a Prussian philosopher, linguist, diplomat, and founder of the Humboldt University of Berlin, said, “True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united.”
Move your body to clear your mind. Clear your mind and your will relieve stress.
So get up and move. Take a break and go for a five-minute walk. Stand up on your break and stretch. Do this several times a day and you will find out that what Elle Woods said is true. Happy people don’t kill their husbands….they just don’t.
My Journey from death's door to the miracle of life.
Annie Dragoo is a wife, mother, actor, singer, dancer, educator, and holistic health practitioner who lives in Austin, Texas.