Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is a condition that causes irregular heartbeats. This condition affects many Americans and can be triggered by things such as alcohol, fatigue and stress. Stress releases adrenaline into the body which can trigger Afib episodes and few are aware that it can be easily managed. Dr. Ed Adib, a cardiothoracic surgeon with 35 years of experience, understands the importance of stress management and has developed a thriving consultancy around managing stress and wellness.
Humans are wired to respond to stress, so it is unnatural to stop it. Dr. Adib’s research is focused on how to correctly manage the inevitable responses people have to stress. Dr. Adib advises that with just two steps, the oncoming of stress responses can be diminished or become more manageable thereby lowering the incidence of intermittent Afib events.
The two steps are:
- Breathe. This may seem like an old school method, and even one that has been given a reputation of inefficiency, but it is the first step in calming stress. Deep, slow breathing has a calming effect on the musculo-skeletal system. When the brain senses stress, muscle tension is the first response along with shallowness of breath. By slowly breathing, the brain is being told to relax the muscles.
“Taking a few deep breaths as soon as you feel it affecting the body is the first step in managing stress,” Dr. Adib states. “Slowing your breathing sends messages to the brain to let it know that your body is physically OK and you’re not in danger.”
- Think. Taking a cognitive approach means actively thinking about your response to the stress. This step is crucial in figuring out the extent of threat your body could be in. Active thinking helps your brain prepare its correct response for the worst case scenario or the best outcome. In other words, this step is assessing the real danger of the situation. In most cases of modern day stressors, there is no real risk to your body.
“Cognitive thinking is a process by which you try to override the brain’s initial response to stress,” Dr. Adib states. “This process is necessary for helping your brain to analyze the severity of the oncoming stress and reacting accordingly.”
For example, you are sitting at your work and the paperwork starts accumulating. You are feeling very overwhelmed and deadlines are causing you a great amount of stress. Your body begins to react. Your heart rate may increase, your breathing may also become much quicker and shallower. In this situation, the aforementioned steps come into hand. First, slow your breathing. Calm your breathing with a long and slow breaths. This step physically relaxes your muscles and lets your brain know you are OK. Second, assess the situation. Yes, there is a mountain of paperwork to be done, but are you in any physical danger? Is your life being threatened? No. You are comfortably sitting at a desk and can sort through the paperwork in due time. Assessing the situation by actively thinking about the moment allows your brain to do damage control and lets your body understand that you are in no real danger, therefore diminishing the initial strong response.
As a strong advocate for preventative medicine, Dr. Adib knows the importance of staying knowledgeable about conditions that may induce stress. AFib patients have a heightened sense of anxiety living with the condition. False alarms and lack of knowledge can cause stress for the patient and the doctor.
Along with using stress management techniques, Dr. Adib advises that heart monitoring devices are a great tool for the patient and doctor in determining episodes and reducing anxiety over irregularities.
“Knowing when an episode is actually occurring is a major chore without any device,” says Dr. Adib. “Not knowing in and of itself is stress inducing. Heart monitoring devices provide ease of mind for the patient and doctor.”
He adds that monitoring devices that provide instant feedback and accurate results in-home such as the AfibAlert from Lohman Technologies can be very reassuring for those who think they may be having an Afib event.
“I wish I had this device when I was working with my patients. It would have provided a great ease of mind for me and my patients,” Dr. Adib comments on the AfibAlert.
Stress related Afib is fairly common, although quite manageable when the situation is handled properly. With other factors increasing risk of Afib episodes, such as alcohol intake or fatigue, stress can also be controlled and diminished. As Dr. Adib states, “life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to what happens.”
Dr. Adib has 35 years of experience as a cardiothoracic surgeon and educator and 10 years of experience in stress and wellness consulting. He is a certified Stress and Wellness Consultant (SWC) with extensive formal training at The Canadian Institute of Stress. Learn more about his stress management organization, VitalOrganization.