Reducing Stress for a Healthy Heart

Did you know February is American Heart Month?

Rec ctr photoIn addition to celebrating our heart’s love on February 14, the whole month is marked for awareness and education of heart health by the American Heart Association. I am putting on a series of three FREE talks at the Bob Burger Rec Center in Lafayette with Claudia Frick, a wonderful herbalist and nutritionist I work with at the Community Holistic Health Center. Each week after our talks, I will write here for the non-local audience to benefit as well. Our first talk this past Tuesday was a really good night, despite the topic: STRESS…

We’re all familiar with stress. It might be one of the most common complaints of Americans these days. But stress can be very different on the outside for different people. What does stress look like for you? How does it show up in your body? What causes it? And what do you do to relieve stress?

You may not realize it, but you are most likely doing something to try to relieve the stress in your life already. It may not be the healthiest of choices, but chances are you have some techniques already in place. (Insert glass of wine here) 😉

So, what is stress? Stress is a normal part of life. Stress is simply your body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. Our reactions can come in physical, mental and emotional forms. It can be positive as it keeps us alert and avoiding danger. Your reactions can be harmful to your body or actually come in quite handy as you can see in these real life scenarios:

  • You look up and it’s 4:45 and you haven’t completed nearly enough work for the day. Your shoulders tense up. (physical)
  • You see a car speeding around the corner as you and your 10-year old cross the road. You lift the 90-pound boy you haven’t been able to get off the ground in years and sprint to the sidewalk. (physical)
  • Your deadline looms. The words suddenly fly off your fingers as you type and your paper is turned in on time. (mental)
  • You get another notice of that overdue bill in the mail. An hour later you are still sitting on the couch, depressed. (emotional)

As I said, stress is a part of every day life for most of us. It only becomes a health concern when you don’t get a break from it for an extended period of time.

You may have heard of the fight-or-flight response. It was originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger. But now it is activated in situations where neither fighting nor running away are appropriate, like in traffic or during a stressful day at work.

It is also important to realize that the response can be triggered due to both real and imaginary threats.

So our thoughts and worries about what could be can actually stress us out as much as if that worry actually happened and these thoughts can do the same damage to our body.

So, what stresses you out?

Any of the following sound familiar?

  • Money
  • Life changes like moving, new job
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Driving/traffic
  • High demands/expectations
  • Relationship challenges
  • Too much to do/not enough time
  • Jobs
  • Parenting

How do you know when you are stressed? What does it look like for you?

Some common manifestations of stress are: headaches, upset stomach, trouble sleeping, skin breakouts, muscles tighten, easily irrigated, can’t focus, high blood pressure, chest pain.

These last two can stress your heart specifically and can be signs of or lead to cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease is the #1 cause of death in the US. Close to one million Americans have a heart attack each year and cardiovascular disease affects 65 million Americans.
THE GOOD NEWS: Cardiovascular disease is almost completely preventable with a healthy diet, regular exercise and a reduction of stress in your life.

Here are 5 practices to relieve stress that can be done just about any time.

5 Practices to Reduce Stress Every Day

1 – Body Check-in/Focus: Scan your body to recognize where you are feeling tight or tense. Where is the stress showing up in your body? Close your eyes and feel that tightness. Focus and direct your breath to that spot. Allow the energy to move through your body, pushing the tightness from its hold and release it as you exhale. Shake your hands to let the stress leave your body.

2 – Breathing exercise: Use the 5-5-7 breath when you recognize your stress increasing. You can use this in your car, at work, before bed, anytime you notice even a little stress. Inhale for a count of 5, hold at the top for a count of 5 and exhale for a count of 7. Let the exhale be a bit longer than the inhale. As you continue this conscious breathing, scan the senses. The scent of the air in your nose, the colors of your (closed) eyelids, your taste buds, the feeling of your butt on the chair and your feet spread wide on the earth, the sound of your breath. Inhale… hold… and exhale. Keep breathing and scanning, tuning in with a heightened awareness. Repeat 10x.

3 – Mindful Eating: Calm your mind by taking slow deep breaths; close your eyes & listen to what foods your body needs (try to distinguish between cravings & true needs); give thanks; chew deliberately.

4 – Connect to Nature/Earth: Use all of your senses to take in the natural world around you. Be in awe!

5 – Play – laugh, dance, sing!

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