“I’m so stressed!”

“I have too much on my plate right now.”

“I can’t possibly do this…”

Do any of those statements sound familiar to you?  All of us experience and manage stress in different ways, and studies have shown that the physical responses associated with the release of stress hormones can result in higher blood pressure, higher heart rate, and a greater risk of heart disease overall.  So, along with regular exercise and healthy nutrition, a healthy mind-set – one with balanced levels of stress – is also key to cultivating a heart-healthy lifestyle.  But how can we possibly get there with all the potential stressors modern life throws our way?

Reducing stress can certainly be a challenge, but here are a few strategies for both de-stressing in the moment and building long-term habits to help counteract life’s stresses.

Stay Positive

Research suggests that having a positive outlook – being grateful, optimistic, cheerful, or having a purpose in life – can counteract the potential negative effects of stress. Below are some ideas you can try to cultivate these characteristics:

  • Practice positive self-talk. Reframe your internal dialogue from “I hate it when this happens,” to “I’ve solved problems like this before, so I’ve got this.”
  • Be grateful. Keep a gratitude journal and list what you are grateful for each day.
  • Laugh it off. Laughter has been shown to lower stress hormones and reduce inflammation. So, find a friend and have a few laughs together.

Give Yourself a Break

In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to avoid escalating stress. Calmly walking away from the situation can be the best – and easiest – way to cool yourself down. You can also use these tactics:

  • Practice Mindfulness. If a situation is getting intense, simply taking a mental break for 10 or 15 minutes to quietly think, pray, or meditate can reduce negative emotions and physical stress responses.
  • Sleep on it. Whether you’re dealing with a conflict through text, email, or face-to-face, remember that you don’t have to respond immediately. Instead, take some time to process the situation and craft a reasonable response.
  • Just unplug. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s difficult to escape external stressors. Set aside the phone, email, and news for a brief (or extended) respite from things beyond your control.

Get Moving

Physical activity is known to be heart protective. What’s more, it helps your brain in times of stress by releasing feel-good endorphins and providing time to think and process. Here are some suggestions for increasing physical activity in your daily life:

  • Go for a brisk walk, run, or nature hike. Reap the dual benefits: you’ll de-stress and enjoy an exercise session. Even 10 minutes of outdoor time can be restorative.

  • Work in the garden or tackle a home-improvement project. These are great ways to take a break from your routine and leave you with a satisfying feeling about your your accomplishments through both physical and mental activity.

  • Play a sport. Try kicking around the soccer, dribbling the basketball, or hitting a few tennis or golf balls. You can enjoy the time by yourself or celebrate the fun and fellowship with your teammates, or even better, your kids or grandkids.

These ideas only scratch the surface of possible ways to decrease stress in your life and build a heart-healthy mind-set. Looking for more ideas and resources? Check out the following links for additional insights:

https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/02/04/chronic-stress-can-cause-heart-trouble

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/fight-stress-with-healthy-habits-infographic

https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-to-handle-stress-in-the-moment

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30213332/