And while I’ll be the first to dive into a pile of pancakes on Fat Tuesday every year, there’s something a little more serious going on in February that we need to talk about. February is National Heart Month, an effort started by the CDC to help Americans become more aware of their heart health.
It could go without saying that a healthy heart is crucial to your overall well-being. And while high, chronic stress levels haven’t been directly linked to heart disease or heart attacks, you can think of it as the first rest stop on a long road trip. It might seem unnecessary to stop and recoup so close to the start of your journey, but down the road, you might run across something that makes you wish you’d stopped.
High blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke, is a natural part of the “flight or fight” response our bodies have to stressful situations. Having chronic stress can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, over time damaging your artery walls. The exact cause of high blood pressure is unknown, but stress-induced behaviors like binge-eating unhealthy foods, avoiding exercise, and drinking a lot of alcohol are considered contributing factors.
So while you’re thinking of all your other loved ones this month, don’t forget to take care of yourself too. Here are a few ways to keep stress in check this tax season and beyond:
- Talk to your doctor about what a healthy blood pressure is for you, and keep track of it on a regular basis.
- Quit smoking.
- Reduce the sodium in your diet.
- Chill out. When you’re angry, your body releases stress hormones into the bloodstream.
- Meditate. One of the most important parts of meditation is focusing on your breath, which helps to calm the entire body.
- Use mantras: similar to meditation, mantras can help calm your mind and bring your stress levels down. One of the most effective ones for me (especially in traffic) is, “Nothing others do is because of you.”
- Exercise. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity at least 5 days a week to help keep your heart healthy and stress levels low.
- Make time for you. Whether it’s a bubble bath, reading a book, doing yoga, or listening to music, be sure to make time each day (even just 10 or 15 minutes) to unwind and focus inward.
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