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Stress can be caused by a physical or emotional change, or a change in your environment that requires you to adjust or respond. Things that make you feel stressed are called “stressors.” Stressors can be minor hassles, major lifestyle changes, or a combination of both. Being able to identify stressors in your life and releasing the tension they cause are the keys to managing stress.

Below are some common stressors that can affect people at all stages of life.
– Illness, either personal or of a family member or friend.
– Death of a friend or loved one.
– Problems in a personal relationship.
– Work overload.
– Starting a new job.
– Unemployment.
– Retirement.
– Pregnancy.
– Financial concerns.
– Perfectionism etc.

There are many techniques you can use to manage stress. Some of which you can learn yourself, while other techniques may require the guidance of a trained therapist. Some common techniques for coping with stress include:

1. Use stress-relief techniques
Stress-reduction techniques and exercises such as yoga, meditation, and tai chi have been shown to lower stress hormones and bolster immune function. In one study, people who practiced yoga regularly experienced a decrease in some of their body’s inflammatory responses. Inflammation is emerging as a key culprit in heart disease, among many other chronic conditions.

2. Get some fresh air
Research indicates that the vitamin D boost from sunlight may elevate your levels of feel-good serotonin. Taking in the sights, sounds, and smells around you redirects your focus from your worries. A Washington State University study published in the Journal of Environmental Horticulture found that when plants were added to the workspace, subjects exhibited a lower systolic blood pressure which means they were less stressed.

3. Connect with friends
Spending too much time on your own can affect not only your mental health but your heart health as well. This holds true whether or not you have been actually diagnosed with heart disease. So get out and about. However, make sure you are connecting with true friends. They don’t have to be many but make sure they have your best interest at heart.

4. Get out of your head
Do you ever get that never-ending loop of negative thoughts and what-ifs playing in your head?  That’s because stress likes to mess with your mind. A surefire and fun way to get out of your head is to engage in activities that put the focus on your hands or body (think kneading bread,  sketching a picture, knitting a scarf, or climbing a rock wall). As your hands and fingers begin to fall into those familiar rhythmic moves, it sends a signal to your brain that immediately relaxes you and makes you feel grounded. Immerse yourself in a creative, engaging activity and get ready to press the mute button. So play nice and think nice thoughts about the future, as optimism has also been shown to protect the heart.

5. Don’t hold grudges
Isn’t it obvious? Nursing a grudge is not going to help in the heart-health department. Research suggests that people experience more psychological stress and higher heart rates when they hold grudges than when they grant forgiveness. So be quick to forgive. This is also likely to lead to better social relationships which is another boost for the heart.

6. Lighten up
Laughter can burn up to 20% more calories than keeping that poker face, according to a 2005 study, which monitored adults while they watched funny and not-so-funny film clips. And fewer calories, as we all know, mean a better chance of staying slim, which is one of the best ways to protect your heart for the long-term. Mirth(happiness and laughter) also increases heart rate and improves vascular function. So laugh a little or, better yet, a lot.

7. Take a bath
Water has an innate soothing effect on the mind and body since it connects us back to our time in the womb. Schedule a regular time to soak in the tub. Further your bliss by pairing your bath with aromatherapy candles or bath beads. Pick a scent that smells best to you or go for lavender or jasmine, both of which possess stress-reducing properties.

8. Limit emotional involvement
Not with people! But avoid getting too emotionally invested in things that don’t matter that much. For example, researchers recently linked football team losses with a greater risk of heart attack. So don’t sweat the small stuff and remember that it is all small stuff.

9. Eat right
Eating a balanced diet—low in red meat and processed foods, high in fruits and vegetables, poultry, fish, and whole grains—will not only keep your weight down but also have a more direct effect on the heart’s functioning: It keeps your blood sugar stable throughout the day so you can avoid destructive peaks and valleys. Healthy eating can help prevent or delay diabetes, a major risk factor for heart trouble.

10. Seek help for depression
Depression can increase the risk of heart disease and may shorten life span. If you’re depressed, medication, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, and other treatments may help.

11. Exercise more
Exercise revs the body’s production of feel-good endorphins that can help regulate sleep, lower the symptoms associated with mild depression, boost energy, and help you remain calmer and more focused, all of which can go a long way toward stress. Try aerobic exercises like running, walking, swimming, and even dancing. These activities help you feel better, lower your risk for diabetes, and make your heart stronger.

12. Get quality sleep
Quality of sleep is key. An average of six to eight hours of sleep is recommended. Sleep apnea—a condition in which you wake up periodically due to interrupted breathing—has been linked with cardiovascular disease. People who awake in the middle of the night from sleep apnea are unable to complete normal sleep cycles, a time when the body naturally lowers hormone levels and blood pressure. This can lead to hypertension and heart disease.

Effective management of stress not only helps your heart, your whole body will also thank you for it!

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