Four Tips for Relieving Stress to Protect Your Heart
Stress is an underrated major factor in our overall health and wellbeing. It can lead to a wide range of issues including heart disease and migraines. Stress is one of the body’s chemical responses to a psychological or physical trigger that it perceives as a threat or great difficulty.
There are two main categories of stress; namely acute and chronic stress. The former is a response to a stressful occurrence that may result in elevated stress hormones like cortisol in response to a singular event. These effects can persist for a couple days to a month.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, causes almost constantly elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels. These hormones cause feelings of being overly vigilant, difficulty relaxing, and can sometimes even lead to the development of anxiety disorders. Chronic stress occurs in response to long term triggers, like a loved one who is chronically ill or frequently hospitalized due to a medical condition. Over time, this type of chronic stress can have many negative physical and psychological effects.
Though stress can take a toll on your heart, there are many ways you can keep stress levels in check and avoid excessive strain on your internal functions. In this post, we provide a few tips for relieving stress and simultaneously protecting your heart.
#1 Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is a highly popular stress-relief tool across several cultures. When a person is stressed, the body releases cortisol, which can lead to a plethora of health problems including heart disease and muscle pain. Massage therapy helps to reduce cortisol levels by stimulating the lymphatic system and promoting relaxation. It also has other benefits, such as improving circulation, relieving pain, and increasing range of motion. Among the many different types of massage, but the most popular are the following:
- Swedish massage focuses on promoting circulation and relaxation
- Deep tissue massage aims to break up adhesions that limit blood flow and mobility
- Aromatherapy massage utilizes the versatility of essential oils to create a customized aromatic experience If you have heart disease, be sure to tell your massage therapist so they can tailor the treatment to your needs.
- Sports massage incorporates various techniques to help athletes quickly recover mobility and promote healing
- Hot stone massage relies on heat to open up muscle fibers, causing muscles to gradually relax
Each type of massage has its own unique benefits, which is why different people and body types are more suited to some types of massage than others. Consulting with a physician is a good place to start if you personally find the range of options overwhelming.
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With external cables and electronic pads, this smart blood pressure monitor provides muscle stimulation to relieve muscle tension in the body. Electrical waves are used to target the site of aches and pains. It provides a deep rhythmic massage for relieving the aching, tense and knotted muscles from the neck to the feet.
#2 A Sound Supplementation Regimen
There are many supplements that can reduce stress and prevent heart damage. Below, we go over a few of the most common supplements and how they work.
Certain nootropics may lessen stress while protecting the heart. Rhodiola rosea is an herb that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat fatigue, anxiety, and depression; it’s also commonly found in stress-relieving nootropic stacks. Ashwagandha was also found to have moderate stress reducing effects by a 2019 study published in Medicine (Baltimore), while a 2015 study in Ayu found it “enhanced cardiorespiratory endurance” in healthy adults.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that is found in the brain and nervous system. It has been shown to help improve cognitive function and reduce stress levels. According to a University of Wales Swansea study, regular supplementation was found to result in lower stress levels and improved mood.
Omega-3 fatty acids are often taken in the form of fish oil, and are essential fatty acids that are important for cognitive function and reducing inflammation. A randomized control trial done by Pennsylvania State University found that Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce stress levels and protect the heart by promoting healthy blood flow. They can be found in fish oil supplements or in foods like salmon, herring, and walnuts.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support gut health. A 2021 article in ScienceDirect showed them to help reduce stress levels by modulating intestinal microbiota. Probiotics can be found in supplements or in fermented foods like yogurt and kombucha.
Meditation has been shown to be an effective way to reduce levels of tension and stress for centuries. A recent study showed that people who meditated for just 27 minutes a day had lower stress levels and less anxiety than those who didn’t. Some practitioners have found that meditation can actually protect the heart from the damaging effects of stress because of its reliable moderating effect.
There are many different types of meditation, but it’s most practical to consider more popular variations that can be easily incorporated into any daily routine. These include:
- Mantra meditation involves silently repeating a thought word, phrase or word to help prevent distracting thoughts while focusing on clearing the mind.
- Mindfulness meditation is based on being mindful of one’s existence, or focusing on increasing awareness and acceptance of living in and experiencing the present moment. Focusing on the flow of one’s breath can help with the observation of repressed thoughts and emotions. The key is to let these pass without any judgment.
- Tai chi is a gentle Chinese martial art where one performs a series of slow, graceful movements while consciously breathing deeply to stay centered.
- Yoga takes many forms, each with a number of popular flows (series of postures and controlled breathing exercises) that promote a calm mind and strong, flexible body. Moving through the poses requires balance and concentration, which naturally result in focusing on the moment rather than the hassles of the day.
Finally, regular exercise is another great way to relieve stress and protect the heart. Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting and pain-relieving effects. They also encourage circulation and release of excess fluids through sweating. This is a fun and natural way to reduce personal risk factors for anxiety and depression.
For those not accustomed to exercising, it’s best to start slowly and build up intensity gradually. Walking is a great way to start, and swimming is a good low-impact alternative. Meanwhile, nature lovers might prefer activities such as biking and hiking. Consulting with one’s physician is always recommended before beginning a new exercise routine.
It’s important to remember that stress can have negative effects on our physical health — not just our mental or emotional wellbeing — as well as increase the risk of heart disease. Luckily, there are many things we can do to reduce the amount of stress in our lives and protect our hearts in the process.
Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Sep;98(37):e17186. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017186. PMID: 31517876; PMCID: PMC6750292.
Choudhary B, Shetty A, Langade DG. Efficacy of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera [L.] Dunal) in improving cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy athletic adults. Ayu. 2015 Jan-Mar;36(1):63-8. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.169002. PMID: 26730141; PMCID: PMC4687242.
Benton D, Donohoe RT, Sillance B, Nabb S. The influence of phosphatidylserine supplementation on mood and heart rate when faced with an acute stressor. Nutr Neurosci. 2001;4(3):169-178. doi:10.1080/1028415x.2001.11747360
Sauder KA, Skulas-Ray AC, Campbell TS, Johnson JA, Kris-Etherton PM, West SG. Effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on heart rate variability at rest and during acute stress in adults with moderate hypertriglyceridemia. Psychosom Med. 2013;75(4):382-389. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e318290a107