Stress can negatively affect your heart in many ways. For some people, it can contribute to high blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Additionally, stress can trigger some people to engage in other activities or habits that can be detrimental to heart health, like overindulging in alcohol, smoking, or eating “comfort” foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt.
Here are five ways to decrease your stress and make things easier for your heart.
Find ways to laugh each day. A recent study by the University of Maryland looked at 20 healthy women with normal blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels (School of Medicine Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better, 2005). They fasted overnight, and then researchers did a blood vessel reactivity test on them.
After the test, half of the participants watched a movie that was expected to produce emotional distress, like the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, and the other half were shown a light-hearted, funny scene. The blood vessel reactivity test was repeated after the movie scenes were over. The results were as follows:
- Overall, the group that watched the funny movie scene averaged a 22% increase in blood flow in their brachial arteries.
- On average, those who watched the distressing movie scene experienced a 35% decrease in brachial arterial blood flow.
According to the American Heart Association, laughter may also increase HDL, the good kind of cholesterol, and lower your risk of heart disease (Humor helps your heart? How?, 2017).
Find ways to include laughter in every one of your days. Watch part of a funny movie or stand-up comedy routine on Netflix, watch chuckle-worthy cat videos on the internet, or call a friend and share humorous stories.
Calm, peaceful time to reflect on your day and think about everything you accomplished and what went right can help you decrease stress. Meditation, specifically, with its associated deep breathing, can reduce stress hormones in your body and help lower your blood pressure and heart rate.
You can learn more about meditation here: “Meditation: An Overview” and deep breathing here: “Use Your Breathing to Decrease Your Blood Pressure.”
Exercise helps improve your heart health in several ways. It decreases your blood pressure, makes your heart muscle stronger, and helps keep you at a healthy weight. Exercise also releases endorphins into your system, which combat the stress hormones that can be harmful to your heart.
Take More “Me Time”
Make sure you’re routinely taking time to do the things that help you relax and stay as low-stress as possible. If necessary, reframe how you think about these activities to highlight their value in maintaining your best mental and physical health.
Many people push self-care activities and hobbies to the end of their to-do list, and some even feel guilty when they do engage in them. There are so many things to be done in daily life today that taking time to sit and read, do a craft, or take a class can be something we relegate to “when I have more time and money.”
Don’t do that.
Find what helps you feel fulfilled, relaxed, and happy and make time to do it regularly. Consider it to be as important as eating a healthy diet, going to work, and spending time with your family. It will help lower your blood pressure and keep your heart healthier.
Have More Screen-Free Time
Many people experience added stress from social media, emails, and the news. Schedule some time into each of your days to enjoy some screen-free time. Shut off your phone, turn off the television, and enjoy some time for yourself and the people in your life to interact and wind down. Maybe even laugh a little and squeeze some extra heart benefits into that time.
- Humor helps your heart? How? (2017, April 5). Retrieved from heart.org.
- School of Medicine Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better. (2005, March 7). Retrieved from Internet Archive Wayback Machine.