If dealing properly with stress was so easy, we’d all do it on the regular, wouldn’t we?
But red lights, spilled Cheerios and grumpy co-workers are not something we can control. So plugging in a little relaxation time can be a good way to keep yourself in check – and your heart will thank you for that.
When you become stressed, your blood pressure rises and your heart rate increases. High blood pressure takes its toll on your heart function and can increase your risk of stroke. Researchers are studying the effect of stress on heart disease, but several studies indicate that stress reduction shows promise in the prevention of second heart attacks, according to the American Heart Association. What we do know is stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating, alcohol overconsumption and smoking, which can further increase your risk of heart disease.
So instead of feeling selfish for grabbing a massage or ducking out of work to do something you really enjoy, think of stress-cutting as making an investment in your health. An added perk: Relaxation can cost little to nothing. All it takes is your steadfast commitment.
Here are a few ways you can manage stress:
- Yoga. This ancient practice of stretching and breathing can often bring you into a state of relaxation. One bonus is that yoga continues to be trendy right now, so you can find a yoga class or style (deep stretching, pregnancy, couples, for example) that suits your needs and interests. In addition to its soothing nature, yoga can provide a mild cardiovascular workout, improve balance, tone muscle and increase flexibility.
- Tai chi. This martial art is often called “moving meditation,” as it uses gentle movements that require deep concentration and balance. As with yoga, Tai Chi offers more than the psychosocial benefits of sharing time with like-minded people and calming your body and mind. It also can improve balance, improve strength and increase aerobic endurance. A 2013 study supported by the American Stroke Association also showed that Tai Chi may help to reduce falls among adult stroke survivors.
- Meditation. This form of mindfulness is the practice of focusing inward. Meditating may feel funny the first time you do it, but you don’t have to go full-on Zen, unless that’s your goal. You can ease into the practice of meditation. You may even want to find a local class, do some research or even ask a friend who has done meditation to join you at the beginning. Each person will want a different environment for meditating, but most often, a secluded, quiet spot is desired. You may want a certain type of music or to hold an object to help your mind focus. You will probably want to wear something comfortable or be seated or lying on something comfortable. The ideal meditation lasts 20 minutes, but like with any practice, you need to find what works best to relax your mind and body.
- Deep breathing. You can practice deep breathing anywhere and will soon be able to use this whenever you feel stress. Sit in a comfortable position or lie down. Close your eyes. Picture yourself in a peaceful place, and begin to inhale and exhale. Focus on breathing slowly and deeply. Continue this for at least 10 minutes. This is a great way to start or end each day.
- Imagery. Imagery or visualization can be helpful if you are stressed, but it also has been shown to improve other physical issues. As with the other techniques mentioned above, imagery is about inner focus, similar to being mesmerized by a good book or entertaining hobby. Part of that inner absorption involves transporting yourself to a place or a feeling. In this case, that place or feeling is feeling stress-free. Begin by envisioning yourself relaxed (seeing, hearing, smelling, moving, tasting). Feel yourself bearing no loads and and how happy and carefree you will be when you are relaxed. See yourself laughing with co-workers and hugging family members. If there are barriers to you feeling relaxed, imagine yourself tossing these obstacles away. Inhale the new you, exhale the obstacles. You can use positive self-talk about the newly imagined relaxed you, such as “I feel lighter and happier. I am relaxed. People enjoy being around me when I am not stressed.” Seeing really can be believing.
As with any new skills, calming your mind takes practice so keep at it.
As with any form of exercise, consult your primary care provider before beginning a new exercise regimen.