Our bodies are designed to handle shorts bursts of stress, such as worries about meeting a deadline or dealing with the frustrations of traffic. But when you experience stress for prolonged periods of time, it can impact your heart health.
Specifically, long-term or chronic stress can increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack.
How stress affects the body
Chronic stress causes your body to be in “fight or flight” mode constantly. While this natural response is meant to protect you, it can be harmful over long periods of time.
Stress affects your entire body directly or indirectly, from your heart to your nervous system to your lungs and gut. It can result in a variety of mental and physical side effects, such as headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, stomachache, fatigue and more.
It can also result in unhealthy habits that lead to increased risk of heart disease. For example, your diet or exercise routine might suffer when you’re stressed out. Additionally, some people may choose to turn to other heart-damaging behaviors, like drinking more than the recommended amount or smoking.
9 Ways to reduce stress FOR IMPROVED HEART HEALTH
We experience a multitude of internal and external stressors every day. Additionally, the pandemic has caused new challenges that have only compounded the stress we already feel.
Fortunately, there are actions you can take to manage your stress in the immediate moment and long-term.
Exercise regularly to relieve stress, anxiety and depression.
Go outdoors and explore your surroundings.
Unplug from technology.
Reconnect with friends and family to tap into your support network.
Get a full night’s sleep.
Practice relaxation techniques.
Find a hobby to distract your mind.
Implement your own self-care practices.
Get professional help if your stress feels unmanageable.
While each of these actions are simple on paper, implementing them in real life requires intention.
Here’s a quick resource for turning on your relaxation response through progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, guided imagery and deep breathing.
For more information about heart health, check out this month’s blog series: