Managing stress

Learn ways to reduce stress, such as deep breathing, getting a good night's sleep and making healthy lifestyle changes

Stress is how your body and mind react to change. Stress can help you energize and focus. However, if you have too much stress or don't deal well with it, stress can lead to unwanted symptoms and have a negative impact on your heart.

Managing stress is an important and often overlooked component to heart and vascular health and health in general. It is crucial to maintaining physical and emotional health, and managing stress is particularly crucial in regard to heart and vascular health.

Symptoms of stress

Stress can manifest through physical, emotional or behavioral symptoms

  • Clammy hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Tight muscles
  • Skin rash
  • Sleep problems
  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Forgetfulness
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Avoiding loved ones
  • Disrupted eating habits
  • Depression

Feeling stressed?

Available for iOS, the Baylor Heart Center app has a new meditation program. Built into the app, using this regularly during times of stress may help to decrease anxiety or that "stressed" feeling.

Baylor Heart Center app

Stress triggers

Minor and major issues can trigger stress and certain behaviors increase stress levels and are good to avoid whenever possible.

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Drinking too much caffeine
  • Smoking tobacco of any kind
  • Eating high-fat and high-sodium foods
  • Frequently engaging in a frantic pace of life, which is common in this age of technology
  • Bottling up your feelings

Be sure to call your physician or a mental health professional if you:

  • Rely on alcohol, drugs or overeating
  • Feel depressed, out of control or hopeless
  • Have missed a lot of work
  • Have gained or lost a lot of weight
  • Can't control your spending habits

How stress affects the body

Stress affects the body in many ways, including constricting arteries and veins and increasing blood pressure

Chronic stress increases your breathing rate and impairs your immune system, which makes you more vulnerable to diseases of all kinds, including heart disease.

  • Physical and physiological changes that occur with stress:
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased hostility
  • Increased occurrences of the "blahs"
  • Increased feelings of depression
  • Decreased energy
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Changed eating habits
  • Poor concentration, increased mistakes
  • Decreased interest in usual activities
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Teeth grinding
  • Poor hygiene
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension, aches
  • Ulcers
  • Upset digestive system
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Rashes, hives, blisters
  • Increased pain
  • Weakened immune system

Ways you can manage stress


Try deep breathing

  • Choose a quiet spot.
  • Sit or stand in a comfortable position.
  • Slowly breathe in through your nose.
  • Pucker your lips (like you are whistling) so you can control how fast the air comes out of your mouth.
  • Breathe in for three seconds and out for three seconds. Repeat for five minutes.

Get a good night's sleep

  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress.
  • Turn off the ringer on your phone.
  • Keep your room dark, or wear a sleep mask.
  • Only go to bed when you are sleepy. If you are wide awake, do something relaxing such as reading a book or listening to soothing music.
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol before bedtime.
  • If you are having difficulty going to sleep, take a warm bath or drink a glass of milk.

Plan ahead but live in the moment

  • Prepare yourself for stressful events. Rehearse an event before it occurs and imagine it ending well.
  • Planning ahead reduces the stress of procrastination and helps to balance the demands of life, work and family.
  • At the same time, live in the moment; spend time with family and friends, get a pet, explore hobbies and interests, listen to music, see a good movie, read a book, garden, volunteer and play games.

Laughter and positivity

  • Laughter is good medicine. Studies show that humor reduces pain and increases productivity. It can relieve the tension and stress that builds up during the day, decrease depression and anxiety, and the endorphins that are released boost the immune system.
  • Replacing negative or critical thoughts with positive ones can increase self-esteem and decrease the risk of depression.
  • Boost your self-esteem with positive talk. Tell yourself that you can meet your goals and that you are in control.

Take a break

  • Studies show that taking a few minutes to recharge helps with concentration and productivity.
  • Schedule break times throughout busy days.
  • Go on relaxing vacations and weekend getaways whenever possible.

Set expectations

  • Don't be afraid to let the people around you know what you need, and try to have realistic expectations of yourself and others.
  • Learning how to say "no" is also a skill. Although it is healthy to help others, it can become stressful when you try to please everyone.

Exercise and get to know your body

  • Exercise three to five days per week to help manage stress. Besides making you stronger and healthier, exercise helps to reduce the symptoms of stress.
  • Learn how your body feels when it relaxes. One at a time, tense and relax each muscle in your body. Notice how it feels to be relaxed instead of tense.

Meditation: Good for your heart!

These practices often use breathing, quiet contemplation or sustained focus on something to help you let go of stress and feel calmer and more relaxed

According to the American Heart Association, practicing meditation and mindfulness may help you manage your stress and high blood pressure, sleep better, feel more balanced and connected, and even lower your risk of heart disease.

Some studies have linked meditation to healthier arteries and improved blood flow to the heart. Additional studies are needed to better understand the association between meditation and cardiovascular health, but experts agree that this practice can be good for your heart. There are many kinds of meditation. Some of the popular types are:

  • Heartfulness meditation is a heart-based meditation that fosters peace, balance and overall well-being.
  • Mindfulness meditation may use an object of focus such as a ringing bell, a chant, touching beads or gazing at an object.
  • Transcendental meditation allows your mind to focus inward while staying alert to other thoughts and sensations.
  • Other styles of meditation include: compassion, insight, mantra, Zen and others.

Try different types of meditation to figure out which one you enjoy most. The key is to focus on your breathing so your mind doesn't wander. If it does wander, slowly bring it back to your breathing. Slowly lengthen the amount of time you are able to remain focused. Meditation is not a substitute for medication or medical treatment, but it can be a way for you to take charge of your health.