Life can be stressful. Work, finances, health problems, parenting… the list goes on! Basically, if you’re alive, you’ve got some stress going on — and you can’t always control the things that stress you out. But you can control how you manage your stress. Learning ways to cope with long-term stress can protect your health and lower your risk for heart problems.
How stress affects your health
You know that stress isn’t good for your mental health. It can raise your risk for depression and make you feel irritable or angry. But did you know stress can also have serious physical effects? Yep, stress can lead to headaches, upset stomach, and trouble sleeping — and it can take a real toll on your heart.
Stress messes with your heart health
In stressful situations, your body releases adrenaline — and that makes your heart rate speed up and your blood pressure rise. When you’re dealing with long-term stress, your body stays in this “fight-or-flight” mode all the time. And that can lead to high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
Stress gets in the way of heart-healthy steps
Stress can also throw a wrench in your whole heart-health journey. When you’re feeling stressed, it may be harder to sleep, cook healthy meals, and get physical activity. And you may be more likely to do things like smoke, drink alcohol, or eat less healthy foods.
So don’t let stress get in the way of your heart-health progress! Start taking steps to stress less today.
How can I start managing stress?
Noticing what causes your stress — and acknowledging those feelings — is a good place to start. Sometimes just naming an emotion can help you process and move through it. Then you’re ready to find some stress relievers that work for you.
Here’s an exercise you can do to feel calmer right away:
Take a few deep breaths. Mindful, deep breathing can trigger your body’s relaxation response — and you can do it anywhere. Try it right now:
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose
- Keep breathing in until your belly puffs out
- Breathe out slowly through your mouth
- Repeat until you’ve calmed down
More Ways to Manage Stress
Physical activity can lower your stress right away. When you’re feeling anxious, follow these tips to move through it:
- Start with a simple walk or roll around the block
- Try relaxing physical activities, like yoga or tai chi
- Sweat your stress away with intense activities, like kickboxing
- Go for a walk or bike ride at a park or nature trail — spending time in nature can also help lower stress
Get more tips to get moving.
Sleep your stress away
Stress can make it harder to sleep. But a good night’s sleep is key to controlling your stress. Most adults need 7 hours or more a night. Try these tips to get enough sleep:
- Build a sleep routine — try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
- Make your bedroom relaxing — take electronics out of the room and make sure it’s dark and quiet when you go to sleep
- Unwind before bed — dim the lights, listen to relaxing music, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large meals close to bedtime
And here’s something you might know: Nicotine from cigarettes can make it harder to sleep. So if you smoke, that’s just 1 more reason to quit!
Take screen and news breaks
It can be hard to stop scrolling through the news, and a lot of the news lately is… well, a lot. But constant screen time can be a source of stress — so try to look away from the headlines. Use these tips:
- Do screen-free family mealtimes
- Avoid looking at your phone for an hour after you wake up
- Choose 2 specific times a day when you’ll check the news — otherwise, skip it
Connect with other people
Spending time with friends and family can be a huge stress reliever. And feeling connected to others can help you feel calmer. Try these tips to stay connected:
- Take a few minutes out of your day to call, text, or video chat with someone you love
- Meet up with a friend for coffee or a walk after work
- Volunteer with a local organization — giving back is a great way to be more social
Find a new hobby or relaxation practice
Meditation and breathing exercises can both help relieve stress. You can also relax with a hobby or creative outlet. Try these tips:
- Follow along with a meditation book, video, or podcast
- Practice deep breathing while listening to relaxing music
- Do soothing activities, like gardening or knitting
- Try something creative, like painting or journaling
5 Things You Should Know About Stress [PDF - 205 KB]
Get the facts about how stress affects your health — and what you can do about it.
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