By Dr Helen Flaherty, Head of Health Promotion at Heart Research UK
Watch your stress levels
We all experience stress from time to time. There are many things that can lead to us feeling stressed. It can come from the news, our jobs, financial insecurity, health issues and personal problems. Feeling constantly stressed and overwhelmed can lead to a rise in blood pressure and resting heart rate, both of which increase our risk of having a heart attack.
Tips to help you avoid unnecessary stress and deal with existing stress in a healthy way.
What is stress?
Stress is essentially when we feel threatened or under pressure and our bodies are preparing to either fight or run away from our current situation. This so-called ‘fight or flight’ response should only occur on rare occasions and it is useful for getting us out of dangerous situations. For many people stress can be more long term and persistent and this can have a negative impact on our mental and physical health.
Avoid consuming too much news
Whilst it may be important for us to stay up to date with current affairs, a constant stream of negative news reports can be a source of stress and anxiety. The World Health Organization recommends that we watch, read or listen to the news to just once or twice a day for short periods. Why not schedule a daily timeslot when you will allow yourself to check the news (e.g. 7:00 pm – 7:30 pm).
Walk your way to a healthy heart
Not only is regular physical activity good for our heart health, but it can also alleviate stress. It is recommended that adults get 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking. When we feel stressed, we may tell ourselves we are too busy to exercise. However, physical activity does not have to be a time-consuming chore.
Incorporating small changes to increase our daily steps can improve our overall mental and physical health. You could start by making small changes, such as parking at the furthest point away from the shop entrance in the car park, getting off the bus a stop early, or leaving your office during your lunch break to take a walk.
Breathing and meditation
Just breathe. Despite the growing attention that meditation and breathing exercises is getting, it is still one of the most underrated things you can do to ease your stress levels and lower your blood pressure. To do this all you need is 10 minutes of your day to sit and do absolutely nothing but concentrate on your breathing.
Meditation is one of the simplest and cheapest ways of reducing your stress levels and blood pressure, and there are many free guided meditation resources online to teach you how to do it.
Ask for help
Sometimes stress can feel overwhelming and you may need a little help to manage it. Try speaking to a friend, family member or a work colleague about how you feel. If you think you would benefit from professional help, you can speak to your GP.
You can find more healthy tips, recipes and advice at heartresearch.org.uk.