Mind & Body

Want a Healthier Heart? Limit Stress

How do you handle a broken hot water heater in your house, a blown head gasket in your car and your mother-in-law moving in with you? What if these things happened simultaneously—and your daughter needed braces? Would your head pop clean off, or would you tamp down your frustration and keep it moving?
Life throws stress everyone’s way. But excessive and chronic stress can contribute to chest pain, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, elevated cholesterol and heart disease. This is especially true if you don’t have a mechanism to handle it.
How Stress Affects Your Heart
Few studies have been done to analyze exactly how stress contributes to heart disease (the No. 1 killer of Americans, by the way). But what is known is that unmanaged stress can lead to heart-damaging behaviors, including drinking too much, smoking and overeating.
Warning Signs of Stress
After long exposure to stress, your body gives off warning signs that you need to stop and reassess. These signs can include teeth grinding, indigestion, upset stomach, headaches, insomnia or other sleep difficulties, inability to concentrate, trouble remembering things and irritability.
Keeping Stress Under Wraps
Once you realize you’re stressed, you’ll need to learn techniques to manage it better. Here are a few coping mechanisms:
Exercise. Choose workouts that help you release endorphins (natural mood boosters), such as a dance class, or ones that help you relax, such as yoga.
Eat a healthy diet. Though overeating and abusing alcohol may seem to reduce stress, they actually add to it.
Set realistic goals. You can’t operate at 100 percent all the time, and that’s OK.
Rest. This is when your body unwinds and repairs itself.
Try deep breathing exercises. Breathe in deeply, filling your abdomen. Let it out slowly, like deflating a balloon. With each exhalation, you should feel less stressed.
Avoid stressors if possible. If Saturday morning errands stress you, try to find a different time—a time when the stores are less crowded—to run them.

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