Did you know that stress can have a significant impact on your overall heart health? Not only can consistently high levels of stress increase inflammation, blood pressure, and lower your “good” HDL cholesterol, putting you at higher risk for heart disease, but stress can also lead to further unhealthy behavior, like exercising less, eating poorly, and struggling to sleep. It goes without saying that we should all look for ways to de-stress. Building routines into your day can lend your life structure, focus, and the feeling of control, all things that help combat stress and the factors which cause it. Unfortunately, most of us live busy lives with schedules that make starting new habits tough in the best of cases. That’s why we’re giving you the tools you need to start building a more heart-healthy lifestyle.
Related: 5 Ways to Relieve Your Stress
Try incorporating these three mini-routines to help alleviate your stress.
Mini-Routine #1: Morning Flex
One great way to reduce stress is to make sure that you start your day off right. Try setting your alarm for 30 minutes earlier than usual so that you can wake up with enough time to ease into your morning. While you’re still feeling sleepy, before you take your cup of coffee or tea, step into a nice, open space where you get some natural light. If you have access to a yard, patio, or balcony, it might be a good idea to step outside instead. Wherever you choose, make sure you have enough space around you to spread your arms wide. Take a deep breath and clear your mind, then go through a routine of a few basic stretches. You know your body best, so only choose stretches that feel comfortable and safe for your body. Stretch in this calm, quiet spot for about five minutes, then head to the kitchen and grab a glass of water, tea, or coffee, and get started with your workday.
Here are a few options for simple stretches to choose from:
- Neck Mobility Stretch: Sit or stand comfortably. Let your chin drop to your chest, then slowly rotate your head around the base of your neck in a circular motion. Pause for a moment, then circle your head back in the other direction.
- Basic Overhead Shoulder Stretch: Lace your fingers together. Then lift your hands over your head until your arms are completely outstretched. Lean back a little and lift your rib cage until you feel your shoulders start to stretch pleasantly. Hold for 10 seconds and release.
- Standing Quad Stretch: Careful to keep your balance, stand on one leg and lift your foot until you can grab your foot. Hold your leg for 15 seconds as you feel the pleasant stretch in your upper thigh. Release, then repeat with the other leg.
Mini-Routine #2: Make Time to Daydream
According to a scientific study conducted by the University of British Columbia, our brains function differently when we’re focused than when we let our minds wander. Allowing ourselves to daydream for a little bit during the day can increase our creativity, decrease our stress levels, and allow us to more effectively problem solve later. Once a day, choose a time when you tend to feel your focus beginning to drop(for many people, this may be in the afternoon around 2 or 3). Set a timer for 15 minutes, and step away from your computer or your work. Make a commitment to yourself that those 15 minutes are for clearing your mind. If you need something to do while allowing your mind to wander, try building in a walk around a nearby park, or pick up a pencil and color or doodle in a notebook as you daydream. When your break time ends, try using a productivity method like the Pomodoro Technique to get yourself back on track.
Read more: Tips for Creating a Better Work-Life Balance
Mini-Routine #3: Screens Off, ZZZs On
Studies have shown that avoiding screen time at least two hours before you plan to go to sleep is a great way to help ease your mind into sleep mode. Screens emit blue light, which suppresses the release of melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that encourages our bodies to rest. Choose a time based on your current schedule to plug your phone in and set it aside for the night. Then pick up a book, put on some soothing music, or meditate before bed. Having a plan for winding down at night might help set you up for the next day and help you achieve deeper, more meaningful REM sleep. If you find your nighttime ritual needs some tweaking, check out our tips for building a restful evening routine.
Daily routines can be a powerful aid in reducing your stress overall, and incorporating one or more of these daily mini-routines should help you feel more empowered to tackle your days and enjoy your nights. For more information on how to develop heart-healthy habits, join our Healthy Heart Challenge! Each month, we’ll challenge you to one manageable (and dare we say fun?) challenge to help you take better care of your health.