Even though you can’t totally avoid stress, you can learn to manage it in ways that will take the weight off your hardest-working muscle. Read on to learn more and get the best tips to hack your health.
Life moves quickly, and each day is filled with new opportunities, responsibilities and challenges. You want your body to be tip-top shape, so you can do what you need to do—and feel good doing it. Arguably the most vital key to a healthy body is a healthy heart. It’s the engine that keeps everything running smoothly. But, even the nicest cars require regular care and maintenance to protect against damage. You may be thinking, I’m not a mechanic…what should I be on the lookout for? As it turns out, one of the most prevalent heart health risks is something we all experience fairly frequently—stress.
Not to stress you out but…stress is bad for you
Stress switches on your body’s “fight or flight” response, and can push your cardiovascular system into overdrive mode. When this happens, your heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels may go up in response. If you stay in this mode for too long, your heart, unsurprisingly, gets tired. And just as many of us have learned while working out, or maybe just getting a little too enthusiastic on the dancefloor, pushing your body too much too fast can cause problems, or even tweak old injuries you’d thought were under control.
Your heart is like any other muscle in your body—it needs time to rest and recuperate. If you’re constantly stressed about things like work or school, the extra strain on your cardiovascular system can increase your risk of developing more serious heart issues. In fact, Johns Hopkins Medicine reported that people stressed about work related issues or instability were nearly 20% more likely to develop heart disease than those who weren’t.
Plus, if you’re already managing a heart condition, stress can also impact the likelihood of that condition reappearing. The phrase “listen to your heart” didn’t come from nowhere, and it’s definitely very sound advice to follow—you can learn to pay attention to the signals that echo throughout the rest of your body.
Brain fog? More like stress fog.
Your mind and body need to be able to communicate with each other clearly, and stress can impede your ability to hear what your body is telling you. When we’re caught up in a whirlwind of stressful thoughts, we tend to seek out unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal—think reaching for all the sugary snacks, smoking, or parking yourself in front of the TV for hours. In fact, lots of people, upwards of 30%, report they eat to manage stress, and many of those also find it difficult to tell the difference between hunger and other emotions like boredom, anger, sadness and you got it—stress. These outlets and distractions may feel good in the moment, but their long-term effects may not be worth it in terms of your heart health.
Dealing with stress means switching into zen mode
Managing your stress levels each day can make a big difference in preserving your heart function, and allowing you to keep doing all the things you love, with all the people you love. A good first step might be running through your day to day routine and trying to identify where the stress you’re experiencing is coming from. Maybe it’s that one class at school, an impending deadline at work, or a project at home you haven’t gotten around to finishing. Whatever it is, try to think about what you can do to alleviate any associated negative feelings you’re dealing with—perhaps planning time for an activity you truly enjoy, or creating a tangible timeline for accomplishing your goal, so it doesn’t seem quite as daunting.
If you’re looking to decrease stress in a general sense, take a look at your everyday habits, such as eating or sleeping. Starting with small changes in your daily routine can yield the biggest results. Nutrition, sleep and relaxation each counteract stress in unique ways:
- Good Nutrition provides your body with the fuel it needs to deal with stressful events, and helps regulate your hormone levels
- High-Quality Sleep restores your body and mind, allows you to think clearly, and improves your mood
- Relaxation Techniques like breathwork, meditation or yoga can lower blood pressure and heart rate, so you can refocus on your wellbeing
When all of these factors come together in a healthy harmony, your body will surely let you know. We hope this article will help you start to destress, check in with yourself, and show your heart some love.