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Four ways to calm your stress hormones

Last Modified: May 12, 2023

Heart Health, Healthy Mind


No matter what you’ve heard, the truth is that high blood pressure (also called hypertension) is directly related to stress. According to the American Heart Association, negative mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, anger, pessimism and, yes, chronic stress, can lead to a variety of complications, including an irregular heart rate and rhythm, inflammation and increased blood pressure. For this, and countless other reasons, it’s important to gather strategies for calming yourself down. Jill Zahm, MSN, RN, AHN-BC, program coordinator, Parkview Heart Institute, provides a handful of her favorite approaches.

What’s happening in the body

When your children aren’t following the right path, or you get pulled over for speeding, or receive an unrealistic deadline at work, or have to take care of an elderly parent, or are facing financial uncertainty, the body turns on its stress response. Your nervous system is triggered to release a wave of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. This results in several recognizable sensations–the pounding heart, laser-sharp senses, loss of breath and tight muscles.

If you’re facing an ongoing stressor, or repeatedly getting into situations that stimulate your anxiety, you could be experiencing this reaction more often than you realize, and your blood pressure could be elevated.

Tips for coping with stress

Unfortunately, we can’t escape all of the stressors in life. That’s why it’s important to have some tricks and tactics for managing our body’s response. Here are some of my favorites and, bonus, they’re all completely free!

Cloud breathing

1.Imagine a white puffy cloud on a sunny day. Name that cloud the thing you need in that moment–peace, tranquility, love, acceptance, etc.
2.Imagine a black smokestack billowing out of a chimney. This represents your stressors.
3.Picture yourself breathing in the white puffy cloud–peace–and breathing out the black smoke–stress.
4.Continue until the feelings of stress have passed or as time allows.

4-7-8 breathing

There’s a lot of research behind this method, which is touted as beneficial for combatting stress and insomnia.

1.Breathe in for four slow counts.
2.Hold for seven full counts.
3.Breathe out for eight full counts.

Guided or meditated imagery

A restorative environment could look very different to different people. For this method, think about what a relaxing space might be for you. Maybe it’s the woods, or a beach. Perhaps you have fond memories at a family cabin or lake place. Open your laptop and search for a guided meditation based on that location and the amount of time you have available. If you’re doing a video, follow the prompts. If you’re doing it alone, get comfortable and picture yourself there, including every detail you can. The goal is to let yourself go on a mini mental vacation.

Move your body

When it comes to taming stress, never underestimate the power of exercise. You don’t have to join a gym or lift insanely heavy weights, either. Take some time alone or grab a friend (yes, four-legged furry ones count) and get outside for a walk to release those feelgood hormones. You’ll be amazed how quickly your mood can shift.

More reading on the subject

Mindfulness and sleep

Calm is just around the corner

The one thing you can do to halt stress

Three ways to improve your mood quickly

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