We stress out about everything: money, work, relationships, traffic, health and so much more. Simply put, we’re a frazzled nation.
Unfortunately, that stress can take a toll on the heart (although not all stress is bad.)
According to Harvard Medical School, severe stress — like absorbing the shock that a child has suddenly died — can trigger immediate heart trouble, such as a heart attack.
But how is everyday stress related to heart problems? There are a number of ways, actually, although the connection is less direct than it is with heart trouble caused by a traumatic event.
What follows are seven things you can do to minimize everyday stress and keep your ticker ticking. However, keep in mind that no tactic by itself will erase all the stress in your life.
1. Cut out the bad stuff.
If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you don’t indulge in any of this bad behavior.
Nonetheless, it bears repeating that stress can push us toward comfort foods like pizza, pie and cookies, according to Harvard Medical School. These high-fat, high-cholesterol goodies contribute to artery damage, which then can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
The same goes for smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Many people turn to these as stress “relievers,” yet they also can produce heart damage.
If you or someone close to you is tempted to pick up a cookie or a cigarette as a mechanism for coping with stress, a healthy method like exercise or meditation should be substituted.
2. Focus on better sleep.
Sleep is an all-around champ when it comes to improving our health, including our hearts. Generally, seven to nine hours of snoozing per day is suggested for adults.
James LaValle, a pharmacist and board-certified clinical nutritionist, recommends putting a stop to emailing, texting and other electronic activities at least an hour before bedtime to ensure a deeper sleep.
“Dark, quiet rooms send the message to your brain that it is time to sleep,” LaValle says.
To further settle down, diffuse essential oil of lavender in your bedroom, he says. This will create a calming effect.
Also, don’t consume any caffeinated beverages close to bedtime. If you’re in the mood for something to whet your whistle or fill your tummy, try water, milk or non-caffeinated tea.
3. Get moving.
The power of moderate exercise is well-documented as a heart-friendly stress reducer. However, LaValle recommends steering clear of intense exercise if you’re stressed, as that can exacerbate the problem.
What’s moderate exercise? Any physical activity that elevates your heart rate to 50 percent to 60 percent above its resting level, according to LaValle.
“Even taking a walk a few times a day for 15 minutes can help shake the stress off your nervous system,” he says, “and can also help boost immunity, which is so important.”
4. Drown out the noise.
A study published in February 2018 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows traffic noise, such as the sound of a car horn honking or a jet taking off, may contribute to coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, stroke and heart failure. Why? Authors of the study believe noise induces stress, which can wreak havoc with your nervous system and can dangerously boost hormone levels.
To be sure, it can be difficult to avoid traffic noise. But this study underscores the fact that it’s vital to try to decrease exposure to honking horns. Perhaps shutting out the environmental noise with headphones or ear plugs can help keep your stress in check.
5. Think positive.
You’ve heard of the power of positive thinking, right? Well, it turns out there’s something to that expression.
Dr. Noah Greenspan, a board-certified clinical specialist in cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy who founded New York City’s Pulmonary Wellness & Rehabilitation Center, reminds us that both optimism and pessimism can affect our physical, mental and emotional health.
“I realize that maintaining a positive attitude is sometimes easier said than done, but people who have a positive attitude often have a greater ability to deal with stress,” Greenspan says.
To ward off pessimism and encourage optimism, he suggests reframing your attitude and pushing away negative self-talk. This can help you cope with stress, and fight anxiety and depression.
“Take steps to surround yourself with positive influences,” Greenspan says. “If you’re constantly being assaulted by cynical people, negativity or rude comments, or by depressing or anxiety-provoking TV shows or other media outlets, you will have a much harder time breaking the cycle of negativity.”
6. Lighten up.
Greenspan says laughter really can be the “best medicine.” Some hearty chuckles can lower stress, decrease anxiety and reduce depression, he says.
How? Laughing can relieve both physical and emotional tension in our bodies, knocking out stress hormones and releasing pleasure-producing endorphins.
“Finding a way to laugh productively in stressful or depressing circumstances may seem challenging at first, but, like anything, it gets easier with practice,” Greenspan says. “Make humor an intentional part of your life. In the end, the method doesn’t matter as much as trying to lighten the mood, whenever possible.”
7. Just breathe.
It sounds so simple, but that’s what makes it such a great stress buster. Breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness can calm our minds and our bodies.
This can be achieved by participating in activities such as yoga and tai chi, Greenspan says, or by merely taking a few moments each day to sit quietly, concentrate on your breathing and clear your mind.