6 Ways to Reduce Stress and Protect Your Heart
Saturday, February 09, 2013
No matter how hard you try, some things in life are just inevitable — like stress. And the stress you experience on a regular basis can have a real impact on your heart: The body's natural responses to stress include a faster heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, and the release stress hormones. Since you can’t avoid stress altogether, it’s crucial to learn to deal with it in a healthy way for the sake of your mind and your heart health.
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that acute and chronic stress may also affect other risk factors and behaviors, such as high cholesterol levels, a person's inclination toward smoking, the urge to overeat, and lack of interest in physical activity. Robert Ostfeld, MD, M.Sc., an associate professor of clinical medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, adds that stress can put a strain on blood vessels and predispose a person to heart disease. "It's not healthy for your heart," says Dr. Ostfeld, "but there are a variety of techniques that can help you reduce the stress in your life."
Build a Support System
Start by talking to your spouse, family, and close friends about your health and your aspirations to manage the stress in your life. They may be able to help you take on, reduce, or alleviate certain stressors. You may also consider joining a support group for people with similar heart-related health conditions or starting individual counseling to help you learn more effective ways for tackling stressful situations.
Recognize Your Stress Triggers
Learn to identify the things in your life that trigger stress — the workload at your job, frustrating relationships with family members or friends, driving in traffic, fear revolving around your health condition — and try to figure out ways to either avoid those triggers, or cope better with them through improved communication, deep breathing exercises, anger management, or even talk therapy.
Schedule in 'Time-Outs'
Ostfeld suggests making a concerted effort to take time out of your day to relax. It can be as easy as taking 20 minutes to simply sit and think, to take a bath, or engage in an activity that sooths you, like reading, doing a crossword puzzle, or practicing some yoga.
Find Fun Stress-Relieving Activities
Jogging, cycling, swimming, and walking a dog are examples of physical activities that are not only good for your overall health, but are also smart ways to reduce stress, according to Ostfeld. Choose an activity (or several) that you enjoy and do them regularly to keep your stress levels under control, but be sure to check with your physician before starting any exercise regimen.
Soothe Your Soul With Music
Music can go a long way in improving your mood on your commute to work, at the office, while working out, or even while grocery shopping. When you're starting to feel the effects of stress, turn to your favorite songs, playlists, or station on the radio. "Listening to calming music," Ostfeld adds, "may also lower blood pressure."
Learn How to Say "No"
One of the best ways to manage the stress in your life is to avoid taking on more responsibilities or social obligations. Set boundaries with family members or friends, be assertive when it comes to your workload and hours, and plan your schedule so you have the time you need to get things done. "Structure your life in a way that helps you manage stress," suggests Ostfeld. "And don't sweat the small stuff."