Welcome to part II of our Matters of the Heart Series. Last week was all about heart healthy living for disease prevention and today we’re talking stress. Can stress really cause high blood pressure or give you a heart attack? Read on to find out..
We all have a lot on our plates, constantly balancing our day to day responsibilities with jam packed social calendars, extracurriculars, and personal hobbies. People are really busy! When we get a little too busy though, stress sets in with a death grip. Now I know sometimes a little stress can be a good thing, in that it lights that fire under you to check things off your long to-do list, but there is another side to that coin.
The consistent presence of stress in your life, can contribute to physical health issues.
Managing your stress appropriately can help reduce your risk of heart disease and chronic illness. When we embrace a positive mindset, we are more likely to eliminate destructive habits and find better alternatives to deal with our worry. This is why a healthy lifestyle is more than just eating clean and working out. It’s about the holistic approach– understanding the importance of health in all areas of life, including mentally and emotionally. If these areas are not taken care of, they can translate into physical illness.
When in a state of stress, a chemical and hormonal chain reaction takes place within the body triggering inflammation. While research has not yet proven that this directly affects risk of heart disease, there is evidence that stress influences your heart (and your health) in other ways. Stress can cause some people to behave in ways that increase their risk of heart disease. Think about it.. We don’t always handle stress in the best ways. Some folks eat to calm down (I could argue peanut butter cures all your problems…just kidding!). Other people throw themselves into their work. What unhealthy choices do you fall back on when you’re under stress? When experience stress, we tend to make less than favorable lifestyle choices especially surrounding diet, exercise, and habits like smoking or drinking.
6 ways to manage stress and help your heart
Want to turn your stress around and help your heart in the process? Try these six simple tips.
- Listen to your body. Your body’s response to stress may be a headache, back strain, or stomach pains. Stress can also zap your energy, wreak havoc on your sleep and make you feel cranky, forgetful and out of control. If you find yourself with strange symptoms like these, your body may be telling you to slow it down. So pay attention.
- Stay positive. Laughter really is the best medicine. Laughter has been found to lower levels of stress hormones, reduce inflammation in the arteries, and increase “good” HDL cholesterol. Overall, embracing a positive mindset and practicing gratitude can help you handle stress appropriately.
- Meditate. Traditional meditation focusing on inward thoughts and deep breathing has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors (like high blood pressure). You can also sit quietly, close your eyes and listen to relaxing music. Yoga, prayer and even journaling can also prove to be relaxing for the mind and body.
- Exercise. Every time you are physically active, whether you take a walk or play tennis, your body releases mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins. Exercising not only melts away stress, but it also protects against heart disease by lowering your blood pressure, strengthening your heart muscle, and helping you maintain a healthy weight.
- Unplug. Avoid emails, TV news, and sometimes even social media. It’s impossible to escape stress when it follows you everywhere. Take time each day—even if it’s for just 10 or 15 minutes—to escape from the world by doing something else with your time. Find an activity that is restorative and allows you to forget your burdens for a moment, such as reading, sports, adult coloring books, or any other activity you enjoy.
- Create a Self Care ritual. Take a bubble bath, listen to music, or get a massage. Any technique is effective if it works for you.
There will always be stress in your life but it’s your choice how you let it affect you. You may not be able to control the stress that comes into your life, but you can control your reaction to it and that makes a world of a difference.
Is your stress leading to destructive, unhealthy habits? How are you planning to take control of it and help improve your health?
Thanks for reading,