Ways to Reduce Stress for Heart Health
April is Stress Awareness Month, making it an ideal time to assess your stress levels and do what you need to do to manage them effectively. Recognized annually since 1992, Stress Awareness Month seeks to spread the word about what causes and contributes to stress while highlighting healthy ways to help combat it.
While you may understand all too well how stress affects your body, your sleep and your behavior, an estimated 30% of people don’t realize just how much of an impact stress has on the heart. In fact, there’s a strong scientific link between your own stress levels and your cardiovascular health, and when your stress level rises, your risk of heart disease rises alongside it.
Stress falls into two main categories: acute, or short-term, stress, and chronic, or long-term, stress. While both types impact your heart health, they do so in different ways.
Acute stress and heart health
Acute stress typically manifests as a result of a single stressful event, such as a performance review at work or a big test at school. Acute stress may cause your blood pressure to increase, and it also speeds up your heart rate and breathing. Once the stressful event comes to an end, symptoms of acute stress subside.
Chronic stress and heart health
Chronic stress lasts for weeks, months or even longer and raises blood pressure, increases inflammation, decreases blood flow to the heart and encourages an irregular heart rate, all of which impact heart health. While chronic stress, alone, can influence your risk of developing heart disease, having other risk factors at play (i.e., smoking, poor diet, etc.) further compounds cardiovascular risks.
How to Reduce Stress Levels
While both acute and chronic stress have the potential to impact cardiovascular health, there’s some good news: There are many things you might do to help counter stress and limit how much it affects your heart and body. Common ways to reduce stress levels include:
Getting adequate exercise
Ever notice how you never regret getting outside for a walk? Getting 30 minutes of exercise on a daily basis boosts not only your physical health, but your mental well-being, too – and if you get those 30 minutes of exercise outside, so much the better, because the simple act of being in nature can have mood-boosting effects that help eliminate stress.
Getting enough sleep
One of the most effective ways to manage stress is to get enough shuteye at night. The results of a 2017 study revealed that individuals react more strongly to negative stimuli when they lack adequate sleep.
Cutting back on social media
Many people don’t realize just how much spending time on social media affects stress levels. While comparing your own real life to someone else’s highlight reel can increase stress, many people also use social media right before going to sleep, which can impact sleep quality and, in doing so, exacerbate stress levels.
Meditation has proven, positive effects when it comes to reducing stress and anxiety. Mindful meditation, in particular, is also effective in terms of boosting memory, cognition and attention.
Cleaning and organizing
It may surprise you just how much your environment contributes to stress levels. Just as a messy bedroom can make it harder to sleep, a sloppy school desk or work area can increase feelings of chaos and have a negative impact on productivity levels.
Keeping a gratitude journal
Keeping a gratitude journal helps reduce stress by highlighting the many things in your life that are going well. It can also help you address and release negative emotions that can manifest in the form of stress. While journaling regularly helps you process your emotions, even taking a moment now and then to jot down three things you feel grateful for can help you cope with rising stress levels.
When left unchecked, stress does more than make you vulnerable to anxiety, depression and digestive issues – it also has a serious impact on heart health. So, this Stress Awareness Month, take a good, hard look at what’s causing you stress, identify which stressors you can and cannot control, and determine which stress-management strategies deliver the most relief. And don’t hesitate to ask for help if your stress seems insurmountable – social workers, counselors and psychologists are just a few of the professionals who may be able to help when your stress levels spiral beyond your control.