by Sabra Leomo, RD
Managing stress is good for overall health as well as heart health. Chronic stress raises levels of the hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol can raise cholesterol levels, triglycerides, blood glucose levels and blood pressure which are all risk factors for heart disease.
Here are 10 ways to positively handle stress and protect your heart health:
- Get Active - The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of exercise every week. This breaks down to a little over 20 minutes per day if you spread it throughout the week. Exercise releases feel good endorphins that help relieve stress. Find an activity that you enjoy and will stick with.
- A New View - If you are feeling stressed out or overwhelmed take 5-10 minutes to change your environment. Maybe you need to walk away from your desk and go outside or go to the breakroom and make a cup of tea.
- Speaking of Tea - Green tea not only contains powerful anti-oxidants that fights cell damage but it also contains the amino acid L-theanine which provides a state of calm awareness. The process of preparing and drinking a cup of tea while being in the present moment can also help decrease stress.
- Music for Your Mood - Listening to music can have a positive effect on your mood and stress levels. You may find that upbeat music helps you feel more positive or perhaps calming classical music will help you feel more relaxed.
- Be Grateful – Often stress comes from pursuing things that we don’t have or thinking about what needs to be accomplished. Every day remind yourself of what really matters. Take time to appreciate the people and things that we do have in our lives.
- Just Breathe - Feelings of stress can hit at any time. Fortunately, you can focus on your breath any place, any time and it takes no special equipment. Deep breathing helps slow your heart rate and stabilize or lower your blood pressure. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique the next time you feel stressed.
- Place the tip of your tongue just behind the tissue on your top front teeth. Leave it there through the whole exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose to a mental count of 4
- Hold your breath for a mental count of 7
- Exhale completely through your mouth to a count of 8
- Repeat the process 3 more times
- Take a Warm Bath - Stress can cause tight and sore muscles. Soaking in a warm bath helps relieve muscle tension and provides you with an opportunity to relax.
- Mindfully Snack - While stress eating is not a positive way to manage stress, mindfully having a healthy snack can help you regroup and energize so you are better able to deal with stress. When you are hungry every challenge seems larger! Take 5 minutes to take a break and have a heart-healthy snack. Try crunchy apple slices with a tablespoon of almond butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon or edamame pods with your favorite no-sodium added seasoning.
- Positive Support System - Whether it is family or close friends, surrounding yourself with a few people you can count on has been shown to improve your ability to cope with stress and even lower cardiovascular risks.
- Prioritize - To-do lists can become overwhelming and add to feelings of stress. Spend 10 minutes writing down all your tasks. Next prioritize your list. What needs urgent attention? What can wait for a week? Prioritizing helps you focus on what is most important and decreases stress related to feeling overwhelmed.
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The way you handle stress matters and positively managing stress is beneficial for heart health. Find the methods that work best for you and make them part of your daily routine.