February is Heart Health month!
One of the (many) things that can lead to poor heart health is large amounts of stress. Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Small amounts of stress can motivate us to take action, can cause a surge of energy, and can also allow us to focus in order to get a job done.
Stress in large quantities can have a negative effect. It can affect our emotions making us feel anxious, overwhelmed, and out of control. Stress can also have a physical impact on our bodies causing our muscles to be tense and sore, and can even cause digestive ailments or physical reactions such as skin rashes or hives. Some people have trouble sleeping when they are stressed and may turn to caffeine and/or alcohol to cope. Or, they put their own needs lower down on their priority list (attention women!) and risk burning out, which actually ends up leading to the detriment of themselves and those around them – Not a good thing for heart health!
Does stress have a direct impact on the health of your heart? More research is needed to determine if there is a direct link between the two. But, the fact that a person is “stressed” means that they are not coping well and they don’t have adequate ways of managing the stress in their lives. Chances are they are resorting to managing stress in unhealthy ways, such as smoking, eating poorly, not exercising, etc. It is these negative reactions to stress that can increase the risk of having heart-related problems – heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pain or irregular heartbeats.
5 Stress Management Principles for a Balanced Lifestyle and Heart Health
Here are some ways you can maintain a more balanced lifestyle and manage your stress.
1. Prioritize : The personal and work-related “to-do lists” seem endless! Create written lists for each area of your life and release those thoughts from your mind. Then, choose your most important task and focus on that as a top priority for the day. Assign it a fixed time, or work on it until it gets done. Don’t let distractions or unnecessary activities creep into your routine. Our attempts to multitask are not as efficient as they seem.
2. Plan your Tasks and Activities: Prioritizing and planning go hand in hand. At the beginning of your day, take time to plan what must get done and when. Some of your tasks are mandatory and essential – those must get done. Other tasks may not be as important and can be delegated, postponed or omitted completely. Life isn’t only about working and doing household chores, so schedule in some fun things, too! Chances are if you don’t, they will be forgotten and your heart health will suffer.
3. Pace Yourself: Sometimes the mere thought of starting a task can be stressful. Beginning a new project at work, cleaning a cluttered basement, or getting ready to do your taxes can be very overwhelming. The best way to approach these tasks is to pace yourself. Schedule your work in 45 minute intervals with short 5-10 minute breaks in between. Getting up from your desk to walk around, stretch and drink some water is good for your body, and the change in activity is good for your mind. When you return to the task at hand you will be refreshed and will be able to concentrate again.
4. Physical Activity: Moving your body is a great way to manage stress and keep your heart health in check. Following a regular cardiovascular exercise program as approved by your doctor or health professional will help you stay fit and energized. Find an activity that you like doing as this will keep you more motivated to stick with it. Don’t push yourself “to the max” right out of the gate. Start off easy and gradually build your strength and endurance. Try exercising with a friend for extra accountability and fun.
5. Positive Attitude: Staying positive when faced with difficult times isn’t always easy, but it is a necessary stress-management strategy. Take time away from your stressful situations, even for just 10 minutes, to re-energize. Breathe deeply, meditate, listen to music, read a book, talk to a friend – do whatever helps you stay positive. Focus on all the things that are going well vs. all the things that are challenging. An “attitude of gratitude” goes a long way to keep things in perspective and help manage stress.
By gradually incorporating these principles into your daily routines, you will have a more balanced lifestyle, positively manage the stress in your life, and work towards achieving optimal heart health.