Reducing stress is just as important for cardiac patients as exercise and diet. That's because the stress response doesn't just impact our emotions – it affects our physical health, too.
Stress causes an elevation of cortisol, (the so-called “fight-or-flight” hormone produced in the adrenal glands), which is great when we’re in danger, but produces adverse effects if we stay stressed over time, including lowering our ability to fight disease, raising our blood pressure, elevating cholesterol, and increasing our risk for heart disease.
While we all know stress management is an important part of a healthy life, “the challenge is to step away from the issues that cause stress and focus on what’s important in life,” says Paul Adams, a healthy aging expert and senior director of product management for Philips.
So let’s look at some of the ways you can manage stress more effectively to benefit your heart and your overall wellbeing.
5 Ways to Reduce Stress
What are the ways to reduce stress? We asked experts for easy-to-implement stress management tactics. Here are five things – in addition to exercising and eating right – that you can do to lower stress and anxiety:
- Practice mindfulness. Meditation doesn’t have to be formal or hard. Even 5 minutes can help, according to the CDC.1 “You don’t need to join a meditation class or sign-up for yoga,” Adams confirms. Instead, just find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or walk and “focus on what’s important in your life.” If you'd like more support, meditation apps and online or in-person sessions are just an internet search away.
- Tend and befriend. You know that warm feeling you get when you look at someone you love (including your pet)? That’s oxytocin, and it’s like kryptonite to cortisol. Spending time with people you care about – in person or via a phone or video call – isn’t just good times, it’s good health.
- Worry less. It’s natural to worry about health and safety after a heart attack or stroke and while living with a cardiac condition. After all, some conditions and the medications that treat them can put you at risk. Instead of worrying about that, take action to mitigate risk whenever possible. For example, since some cardiac conditions and medications may make you more likely to fall, consider a medical alert device like Lifeline’s, which can ease some of the anxiety.
- Laugh it up. Multiple academic studies show that smiling and laughing aren’t just good for our frame of mind – they deliver vascular benefits as well. The CDC reports that laughter lowers blood pressure and protects our hearts.2 Make watching a funny movie, TV show or comedy act, or reading a funny book part of your daily or weekly routine. Bonus points if you do stand-up or improv!
- Have fun. Engaging in activities that make us happy delivers psychosocial and physical benefits to heart health and well-being. Fun helps us feel more satisfied with our lives and experience less depression. It studies also show that it can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. Whether it’s a crossword puzzle, painting, listening to music or learning a foreign language, you’ve got a prescription for fun.
Managing stress is good practice no matter your health. For cardiac patients and their family caregivers, stress reduction is a vital tool for heart health and general wellbeing. Talk to your primary care provider about which of these activities makes sense for you.
Don’t disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation, diagnosis or treatment; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have specific questions about any medical matter, and seek professional attention immediately if you think you or someone in your care may be experiencing a healthcare condition or medical emergency.
1CDC – What You Can Do Right Now – Stress. https://www.cdc.gov/howrightnow/resources/coping-with-stress/index.html. January 3, 2022.
2CDC - National Diabetes Prevention Program – Post-Core: Stress and Time Management.
https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/pdf/posthandout_session12.pdf. January 3, 2022.