Health Advisory

4 Healthy Ways to Lower Your Stress Level

Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but it's important to monitor your stress level and take steps to manage it.

April is Stress Awareness Month. Most people know what stress is — the mental or physical tension you feel when you're under pressure — but busy professionals often ignore their stress or think of it as part of life. Chronic stress is common, but it deserves your attention.

How’s Your Stress Level?

The past few years have been stressful for almost everyone. In fact, the American Psychological Association’s 2022 Trends Report shows that burnout and stress are at all-time highs across professions.

Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but it's important to be aware of your stress level on an ongoing basis. Prolonged stress is considered chronic stress, and it's harmful to your health. Recent studies show that chronic stress damages the heart. It may be as dangerous, or even more dangerous, to heart health than the traditional cardiac risk factors.

The human body's stress response is designed to be temporary. According to the Mayo Clinic, when your stress response remains activated for a long period of time, stress hormones affect your body's processes. Ongoing stress can also change your eating habits in unhealthy ways.

In addition to heart problems, chronic stress puts you at risk of high blood pressure, stroke, headaches, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, muscle tension and pain, insomnia, memory and concentration problems, and weight gain. You can protect your health by monitoring — and managing — your stress level.

4 Healthy Ways to Lower Your Stress Level

If you're living with chronic stress, you've probably found ways to manage it, but not every coping strategy is healthy. Unhealthy ways of coping with stress include drinking or eating too much, and compulsive habits such as gambling, shopping, or scrolling through social media.

By paying close attention to your stress level, you can take proactive steps to get it under control.

1. Focus on relaxation. The Mayo Clinic suggests using visual imagery and body awareness, among other techniques. Take controlled breaths, slow your heart rate, and visualize yourself in a place you find peaceful and calming.

2. Get some light to moderate exercise. Jennifer Heisz, PhD, author of Move The Body, Heal The Mind, recommends walking as a way to ease your stress response. Don’t push yourself to exercise hard, because your body is already under stress. In a recent New York Times article, she said, "Aim for exercise that feels comfortably challenging, so your heart rate is elevated but not racing. For a lot of people, that would mean taking a brisk walk around the park or the block."

3. Spend time with family and friends. Make plans with people who appreciate you. A strong social support network is a powerful stress-fighting tool.

4. Ask for help. If you need more help managing your stress level, reach out to an expert health advisor. Your primary care doctor may not ask about your stress level, but health advisors take a holistic approach to health. They will answer your questions, connect you with top providers, and help you get the care you need.

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