Chronic stress is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease1. That is because stress causes a hormonal response in the body that can lead to increased inflammation, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and damage to the arteries that can cause plaque buildup on the arterial walls1. Controlling stress is one of our biggest defenses against heart disease, which remains the number one killer of men and women in the United States. Our day-to-day lives are filled with stressors, such as work, financial burdens, and personal responsibilities. Our modern-day world keeps us moving at a mile a minute and the pace can be extremely overwhelming if we never take the time to pause. Need a few ideas on how to make your life more stress-free? Here are 4 easy ways to manage stress and reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
- Practice Yoga. Yoga has been a growing health trend over the past few decades. It combines simple meditation and deep breathing exercises with specific stretches and strength poses. Studies have shown yoga to reduce stress and even improve sleep quality2, 3. There are a variety of yoga videos on the market for those who wish to practice at home, and an abundance of classes and yoga studios for those who prefer a little more personal interaction. Yoga comes in a wide range of styles and skill levels, so simply find a method that works for you and begin practicing today.
- Meditate. Mindful meditation is another great stress reliever. One study found mediation to reduce stress, burnout, depression, and anxiety4. Another showed it to reduce stress related tension headaches5. Meditation is an easy way to reduce stress without even leaving your home. Simply find a quiet spot, sit or lay in a comfortable position, and practice breathing deeply for 10-20 minutes. Light meditation music can help to further calm the mind, while guided meditation exercises can be found on YouTube for those who would prefer a bit more instruction. For more information on the benefits of meditation and tips on how to begin practicing, check out the links below.
- Go Technology-Free. Take some time away from technology. Technology can be a distraction, as well as a mental and emotional drain. Let’s face it, most of us are guilty of overusing our smartphones, over-watching television, or gluing ourselves to our computer screens and tablets for far longer than we should. Technological devices have become so common place in our lives that often times we do not even realize we are using them to such excess. Reeling in our obsessive technological behavior is important for our health. Overuse of technology can lead to sleep disturbances, depression, and heightened psychological distress6, 7, 8, 9. Try going technology-free for at least an hour or two a day. The best time for most of us to turn everything off is before bedtime. This allows our minds to decompress and prepare for rest. Try reading a book or a magazine, chat with a loved one, or simply sit quietly with your own thoughts. Although this might seem difficult at first, your stress level will soon drop, and it will quickly become your new favorite part of the day.
- Exercise. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise helps to improve sleep patterns, reduce overall stress, combat anxiety, and improve mood10. Exercise causes the body to release hormones, such as dopamine, that improve overall physical function and help us to feel good. It also increases HDL cholesterol levels, decreases blood pressure, and improves digestion and blood circulation. Our bodies were made to move, so it stands to reason that adding a little exercise to your week helps to keep everything functioning at its best. Be sure to include exercise in your weekly routine to help combat stress and improve overall cardiovascular health.
Mental wellness is an important part of overall wellbeing. Optimal health is about more than just eating right and exercising. It is about feeling strong, confident, and ready to take on the world. A body bogged down psychologically cannot operate at its best physically. So be sure to allow yourself a little time each day to relax, unwind, de-stress, and focus on your mental wellbeing. Happy heart health month!
- Lagraauw HM, Kuiper J, Bot I. Acute and chronic psychological stress as risk factors for cardiovascular disease: Insights gained from epidemiological, clinical and experimental studies. Brain Behav Immun. 2015;50:18-30.
- Kusaka M, Matsuzaki M, Shiraishi M, Haruna M. Immediate stress reduction effects of yoga during pregnancy: One group pre–post test. Women and Birth. 2016;29(5):e82-e88.
- Field T. Yoga research review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2016;24:145-161.
- dos Santos TM, Kozasa EH, Carmagnani IS, Tanaka LH, Lacerda SS, Nogueira-Martins LA. Positive effects of a stress reduction program based on mindfulness meditation in brazilian nursing professionals: Qualitative and quantitative evaluation. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing. 2016;12(2):90-99.
- Azam MA, Katz J, Mohabir V, Ritvo P. Individuals with tension and migraine headaches exhibit increased heart rate variability during post-stress mindfulness meditation practice but a decrease during a post-stress control condition – A randomized, controlled experiment. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 2016;110:66-74.
- Lee Y, Chang C, Lin Y, Cheng Z. The dark side of smartphone usage: Psychological traits, compulsive behavior and technostress. Comput Hum Behav. 2014;31:373-383.
- Thomée, M. Eklöf, E. Gustafsson, R. Nilsson, M. Hagberg. Prevalence of perceived stress, symptoms of depression and sleep disturbances in relation to information and communication technology (ICT) use among young adults – an explorative prospective study. Computers in Human Behavior, 23 (3) (2007), pp. 1300–1321.
- Thomée, A. Härenstam, M. Hagberg. Mobile phone use and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression among young adults – A prospective cohort study. BMC Public Health, 11 (1) (2011), pp. 66–76.
- Chesley. Blurring boundaries? Linking technology use, spillover, individual distress, and family satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67 (5) (2005), pp. 1237–1248.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (N.D.) Physical Activity Reduces Stress. Retrieved February 15, 2017. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st