Health, Heart Health

Breathe, Stress Less

Stress Dictionary Entry

It’s only March, but already this winter is shaping up to be one for the record books.  Along with impressive snowfall totals (just over 70 inches since December according to this graphic), the string of snowstorms moving through the area brought along stress and aggravation to everyone from residents and city officials trying to keep roads and driveways clear, to travelers trying to get away.  Shoveling, plowing, salting and scraping are all part of wintertime living in New England, but the stress of post-snowstorm clean-up may also be bad for your heart.  

When facing a stressful situation, whether it’s a presentation at work or the thought of cleaning up the latest foot of snow, the body responds by releasing stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.  Heart rate, blood pressure and the volume of blood out of the heart all increase. Under normal circumstances the body returns to normal once the stress has passed, but for many people in our 24/7 world, chronic elicitation of the stress response is now part of daily life.  Chronic stress may put you at risk of developing hypertension or heart disease. Yikes! 

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed now?  Stop.  Breathe.  Relax.  

Research by the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine here at Mass General Hospital has shown that eliciting the relaxation response (the antithesis of the stress response) can lower your blood pressure and decrease the cumulative effects of stress.  Sitting quietly, take a few slow, deep breaths. Focus on a word or phrase, repeating that word or phrase quietly to yourself on each breath. Continue for 10-15 minutes…. 

There are many different techniques to elicit the relaxation response including diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, mindfulness, guided imagery, yoga or tai chi.

Research has demonstrated that regularly eliciting the relaxation response can have lasting declines in blood pressure. The Benson-Henry Institute offers a 13 week Cardiac Wellness Program for patients with hypertension or heart disease. 

It may not be possible to live a completely stress free life, but knowing a few good strategies for managing that stress can make a difference.  Here’s some good news: spring training has already started.

 What do you do to manage stress? 

(Information reviewed by the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine)