Iowa Specialty Hospital

Stress Less for a Healthier Heart

April 17, 2024

Stress can happen to anyone. We can't always prevent or avoid it, but we can change how we respond to it. Try these tips - you may feel better as well as have a healthier heart: 


Know How Stress Affects Your Body

Whether it's from everyday deadlines, the work-life balancing act, or financial struggles, stress often shows up in our lives. Your body reacts to it. Your heart rate increases, your blood vessels narrow - especially over the longterm, that's not healthy. Research has shown that stress can make us more likely to get heart disease and have a heart attack.

The origins of heart disease begin at a young age, so the earlier in life you learn how to de-stress, the happier you and your heart will be.

Ongoing stress acts on more than just your heart. It affects everything from your nervous system and hormones to your lungs and gut. You may not see the connection, so try to listen to your body while thinking about what's going on in your life.


Turn On Your Relaxation Response

Did you know your body also has a relaxation response?  Your breathing slows, and your blood pressure and heart rate decrease. 

The good news is you can trigger that response. Ways to do so often combine breathing deeply and focusing your attention on pleasing thoughts and images. 

Here are a few relaxation response techniques to try. You can do these on your own or find a teacher or class to start. They may take some practice.

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
    This approach calls for tightening individual muscles in your body and then releasing the tension. Start by tensing and relaxing your toes, then your calves, and on up to your face. Do one muscle group at a time.
  • Meditation
    This is one of the most-studied approaches for handling stress. There are a variety of ways to do it, including through mindfulness meditation. Most meditation styles involve: 
    • Being in a quiet location with as few distractions as possible
    • Being physically comfortable either sitting, lying, or walking
    • Focusing your attention on a specific word or set of words, an object, or your breathing
    • Having an open attitude and letting distractions, including thoughts, come and go without judgment
  • Guided Imagery
    This involves a series of steps that include relaxing and visualizing the details of a calm, peaceful setting, such as a garden.
  • Deep Breathing
    This is something you can do anytime, anywhere. Take in a slow, deep breath, let your stomach or chest expand, then exhale slowly. Repeat a few times.


Find Your Way To Healthy Relaxing

There's no "one way" to control stress. You may want to try a stress management program, do yoga, talk to a professional counselor, or take an art class. You can even join friends for a brisk walk. Being in nature is very soothing for some people.

Finding healthy relaxation exercises is just one way to protect your heart. Combine de-stressing with other heart-healthy habits, such as eating nutritious foods, moving your body more, exercising, getting enough sleep, and developing a strong social support system.


Know When It's More Than Just Stress

If you're feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, are using drugs or alcohol more frequently, or are having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help right away. Resources are available from the National Institute of Mental Health




Source: NIH - National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (

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