We’ve spent most of 2020 bombarded with COVID-19, listening to the constant news cycle talk about the presidential elections, and more. It’s been a long year, and many people have turned to old, unhealthy ways to calm their stress. As mentally taxing as stress can be, it is also very physically taxing. One of our tips for maintaining or pursuing heart health is stress management. 

What we define as stress, our bodies experience as fear. You’ve probably heard of your fight or flight response. This automatic, physical reaction was useful for early humans when they had to think quickly to respond to a predator. Today, most of us will never encounter a predator or spend much time in immediate physical danger, but our bodies respond to everyday stressors as if we were. What happens in your body when you’re stressed about work, worried about your health in a global pandemic, or bombarded with anxiety-provoking political debates mimics what would happen if you were about to be attacked by a lion.

Stress is a leading threat to heart health. When your body is under stress, your heart rate and blood pressure rise putting pressure on your heart muscles and the arteries that pump your blood. Working to minimize your stress is an important heart health maintenance tactic.

Unfortunately, the world we live in has fed us some untruths about dealing with stress. Self-care has been a buzzword over the last several years that, while great in theory, is often connected with activities that diminish your heart health rather than promote it. Things like alcohol consumption, eating sugary or fatty foods, and leading a sedentary lifestyle might feel good at the moment, but they actively work against your attempts to manage stress and maintain your heart health. We’ve compiled a list of stress reduction techniques that also advance your heart health goals.

1. Drink Plenty Of Water

One of the hormones that contribute to your stress response is cortisol. This same hormone also makes it difficult for you to lose weight. When we drink plenty of water, it flushes excess cortisol from our bodies making it easier for us to manage our stress and anxiety levels. Drinking enough water also helps fight against overeating which is another heart health benefit. When our bodies are hydrated and healthy all of your organs perform more efficiently, including your heart. When you’re feeling stressed, put down the caffeine and alcohol and pick up a big glass of water.

2. Eat A Heart Healthy Diet

What’s the first food you turn to when you’re feeling stressed? Research shows that most people tend to eat foods higher in fat and sugar when they’re experiencing stress. By now, we hope that you know that these types of food are not part of a heart-healthy diet. So if you’ve been stress eating ice cream and take-out, you may be contributing to your anxiety and working against your own heart health goals. Choose instead a diet filled with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats.

3. Get Plenty Of Sleep

Are you spending lots of time binge-watching television or scrolling social media on your phone? We’ve become accustomed to losing ourselves in technology as a way to unwind, but the truth is all that screen time is making it hard to sleep. Research shows that the blue light emitted by our phones suppresses our bodies’ natural production of melatonin. Getting plenty of sleep is a natural stress reliever. Practice turning off your phone before bed and see how it reduces your stress and increases your heart health.

4. Commit To An Exercise Regimen

It may sound counter-intuitive, but raising your heart rate is an excellent way to deal with stress. Unlike the fight or flight sensation you experience when you’re under psychological stress, exercise increases your endorphins and allows your body to cycle in and out of physical stress naturally and healthily. When you develop a habit of regular exercise, you’ll experience even more heart health benefits such as lowered blood pressure and a lower heart rate. While exercise does put stress on your heart muscle at the moment, it’s that short burst of stress that makes it stronger in the long run. Just like doing push-ups, a little bit of stress on your arms and shoulders today makes them strong enough to do even more push-ups in the future.

Encountering stressors out in the world is inevitable. Your job, children and grandchildren, politics, money, all of these things are inevitably stressful from time to time. The goal is not to eliminate all of our stressors (though it’s advisable to eliminate the unnecessary ones), but to learn how to cope with your stressors to protect your heart health. If you find yourself feeling stressed often, we urge you to begin developing some stress-reducing and heart health-promoting habits. For more information about improving your heart health, or to schedule an appointment with our office, contact us today.