You know that stress is not good for your health. In fact, you’ve even been advised to manage your stress. And now we hear you ask, “What exactly is stress management? And how can I manage my stress?“.
In response, we would say “While you cannot get rid of stress altogether, you certainly can manage it!” You’ll also be glad to hear that stress management is actually pretty simple, and it works fast to reduce your stress and keep your stress at acceptably low levels.
Now, let us be very clear: stress cannot be avoided completely – it is a part of life. And in truth, you actually need the ‘right’ kind of stress – just enough, and at the right time. Without it, you won’t be motivated into action and you’d find it hard to keep going!
But when your stress levels are continuously high, you put your heart health at risk. So, to protect your heart and enjoy good health, you must eliminate chronic stress. To do this, you must first understand how much stress you’re under and how your body responds to stress. Then, you can learn how you can manage your stress so that it doesn’t build over time.
We cover these topics in depth in our “Take a Break from Stress!” course with our Heart Wellness Club members. In this article, we’re going to share a number of the key ideas to help you avoid stress overload too.
Are Your Stress Levels Too High?
We use the analogy of a ‘stress bucket’ to help you visualize your stress levels and how these change over the course of your day.
Think of your ability to cope with stress as a bucket, and the stress itself is like water that life pours into your bucket. Sometimes, your bucket may be almost empty (little stress). At other times, your bucket may be filled to the brim (a lot of stress). And on some occasions, your bucket may feel as though it is about to overflow (too much stress).
Now for our Stress Bucket exercise:
Imagine how full your bucket is when you wake up, on a scale of 0 (empty) to 10 (full). Think then how full it becomes during the course of your day. And lastly, think how full your bucket is when you’re ready to go to sleep. This will give you a good idea of your current stress levels, and how these change over an average day. It is also very useful for you to know whether your stress ever falls to 0.
Write down your responses, preferably in a diary or your calendar so that you know what happened on a particular day and how this affected your stress levels. Repeat this simple exercise for a few days. It will help you understand how your current lifestyle affects you, sometimes adding to your stress and sometimes reducing it.
What is Your Stress Response?
Your body’s stress response is a complex process which involves your nervous system (both the sympathetic and parasympathetic components) as well as your stress hormones (in particular, noradrenaline, adrenaline & cortisol).
This stress response alerts you to a change or challenge that is potentially threatening (known as your stressors). It readies you to react appropriately, physically, mentally and emotionally. And then, it returns your body to its normal ‘steady’ state through a process called homeostasis.
When working correctly, this allows you to respond to a stressor with perfect timing, precision, and efficiency. You deal with what you need to, and then you can get on with the rest of life.
Why Chronic Stress is Bad for Your Heart Health
Your body’s stress response has three distinct stages: you pick up a ‘danger signal’; you respond quickly and effectively; and once this ‘danger’ is over, your body can recover and replenish its resources. This means that you are ready for, and can deal with, the next challenge.
But what happens when you’re under prolonged stress? This is bad news. Your body cannot recover, you deplete your internal reserves, and your body ends up in a state of exhaustion.
Chronic stress means that you have levels of stress hormones over a longer period. And these increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar; cause inflammation; and reduce your immune function. This is why stress is so bad for your health – especially for your heart.
The good news is that you can break this cycle – and this is where stress management comes in…
Can You Manage Stress?
When we use the term “stress management”, we’re talking about dealing with your stress deliberately, healthily and proactively. And this also means an ongoing commitment – remember, stress happens as life unfolds on an everyday basis.
There are three essential strategies to handling stress effectively: reduce your exposure to your stressors, relieve your body’s stress response when it happens, and build your stress resiliency.
There are so many things that you can do to help with stress reduction, stress relief, and stress resiliency.
Some of the ways we recommend are simple, fast and don’t require anything other than your mindful attention. For example, you can do breathing techniques, move your body, keep a gratitude journal, hug your pet, and spend time in nature. Other stress management practices can take more time and dedication. These include developing a hobby, learning yoga, Tai Chi or meditation, and building supportive relationships.
Explore whatever appeals most to you…and start today! Remember – the sooner you learn how to reduce your stress, the sooner you start protecting your heart health.
Say Goodbye to Stress Overload!
Are you ready to say goodbye to stress overload for once and for all? If you want the full Stress Management course and challenge, join our Heart Wellness Club today! You can choose your Membership Package here.
It’s time to allow only ‘good’ stress in your life. You deserve it, and your heart will thank you! 💚
Katrine Smith Tulloch-Reid
Katrine is a Heart Health & Wellness Coach and Co-Founder of Epanafero. She specializes in developing and delivering programs for heart health and wellness, with a focus on mindset and behavioral change in the areas of healthy eating, physical activity, sleep, and stress management. Beyond Epanafero, Katrine delights in experiencing life with her husband Edwin, learning, exploring cultures and cuisines, practicing yoga and meditation, and being in nature..