Heart Health: How to manage long-term stress

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Solutions to break up with stress for good

Valentine’s Day may have passed but it is always a good time to talk about keeping your heart healthy. For most, a great way to increase heart health is to decrease stress. Soghra Jarvandi, from University of Tennessee Extension, has several ideas for how to break up with stress for good.
“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 600,000 deaths per year,” says Jarvandi, UT Extension community health professor. “When we talk about heart health, we usually think about eating healthy, being more physically active and not smoking tobacco. However, engaging in healthy behaviors may be difficult when people are under stress. So how do we get rid of stress?”
Everyone faces stressors in life, from their daily commute in traffic to job issues, and sometimes even major life events like the death of someone close to you, a big move or possibly a health crisis. “Stress can help you function better in some situations, but long-term stress can impair your health in a big way,” says Jarvandi.
Jarvandi suggests following the American Heart Association’s steps for heart healthy behaviors by managing stress:

  • Positive thinking – Practice positive self-talk regularly. For example, say to yourself “I can do this” when facing tough situations. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones as much as possible.
  • Stress-busting activities – Keep activities that make you happy in your daily and weekly plans. You may enjoy reading a book, listening to music, walking in nature, meditating or meeting a friend. Make sure these activities are part of your routine.
  • Emergency stress-stopper – If you are in a particularly stressful situation, have an activity that will help your body deal with the stress response. Go for a walk, do some physical activity, count to 10 or take a few deep breaths before responding to the stressor. Always take action to resolve stress.
    More resources for stress management are available from the American Heart Association and the National Institute of Mental Health. If you feel overwhelmed, consult with your healthcare provider.
    For additional help and programs specifically about healthy choices including stress management, contact the family and consumer sciences agent at your local county Extension office by calling 989-2103. You can also visit the UT Extension Family and Consumer Sciences website at fcs.tennessee.edu.

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