5 tips for managing stress and maintaining a healthy heart in times of crisis

Foundation, in collaboration with Dr. Judith Brouillette, psychiatrist

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Did you know that stress has a direct effect on heart health? Though stress is vital for a healthy life, it can be harmful if it becomes chronic? That’s because intense stress works on the autonomic nervous system, responsible for controlling involuntary body functions. When you feel anxious, your heart goes into overdrive.

It’s impossible to be completely zen all the time, particularly when we’re faced with more stressful situations than usual. However it is possible to take a step back to manage stress better, and use it as a vehicle for reflection.

Here are 5 tips to control stress and keep your heart healthy.

Welcome your emotions

When you’re overwhelmed by emotion, do you have a tendency to hide or avoid your feelings? Living in denial of anxiety won’t help the situation, in fact it’s just the opposite. When we’re in a stressful situation, we should expect to go through a whole range of emotions. When you feel your emotions surge, accept it without denial or amplification, and without getting hung up on it. This will make it easier to deal with.

The first step when it comes to controlling stress is accepting and recognizing your emotions. When you’re aware of what you’re feeling, it’s easier to seek out resources that will allow you to feel better.

Don’t lose sight of your basic needs

Be careful! Don’t let yourself get so overwhelmed by the situation that you forget your basic needs (food, sleep, exercise, etc.). Never underestimate the power of a good night of restorative sleep, a nutritious dinner or time with friends. Even though these things may not feel high priority in times of crisis, it’s important to make time for them, or we risk descending into an endless whirlpool of emotions where anxiety wins out. Satisfying your basic needs will give you the opportunity to take back control of your life.

Keep working on everyday challenges

Even if the stressful situation you’re in feels all-consuming, your day-to-day challenges are still important.  Did you set a new goal or pick up a good habit before this period of stress? Don’t let it drop! Continue to push yourself at work to get that promotion you’ve been dreaming of, keep up your Friday-night date nights and don’t stop training for that half-marathon next summer. Don’t let this unpleasant situation take up all the space in your life.

Give yourself a chance

No one is perfect, so don’t try to be. Give yourself the right to forgive yourself, to change your mind, to take your time. Above all, be kind to yourself. In spite of anything that may be happening in your life, give yourself moments of respite, and continue to appreciate life’s small pleasures. You’ll see: taking care of yourself does real good for your heart and spirit.

Have the courage to ask for help

You are never alone. Ask for help before the situation gets out of control. Whether it’s a friend, a family member or a healthcare professional, talk about the situation that’s worrying you with someone empathetic. It might seem obvious, but the simple fact of talking openly and feeling heard and understood can take a big weight off your shoulders. Opening up means giving yourself the means to feel better.

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