Eat Healthy, Exercise, Sleep Enough to Manage Stress

Why It Matters

  • Finding time to relax and using vacation time can benefit your health and your outlook at work.
  • Healthy responses to stressful situations can ease their impact.
  • Excessive stress can affect you emotionally and physically, even increasing heart disease risk factors.

American Heart Association tkc.profilePicture Written by: American Heart Association
March 28, 2018

5 Min readClock Icon

With income tax time fast approaching and spring school and work activities dominating daily life, stress can creep in.

How you respond to that stress makes a difference in your mental and physical health.

Excessive stress can lead to emotional and physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, neck and back pain, sleeplessness, or shortness of breath, said Barry J. Jacobs, a clinical psychologist and director of behavioral sciences for the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program in Springfield, Pennsylvania.

Stress may also affect behaviors and factors that increase the risk of heart disease. Those include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, overeating, and physical inactivity.

Healthy ways to respond

Sometimes it’s possible to change stressful circumstances. If not, attempt to change your reactions to those circumstances, said Jacobs, a family caregiving spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Good nutrition, exercise, and adequate sleep all can help you cope with stress. There are also ways to handle stressful situations in the moment, including breathing exercises, meditation, or visual imagery to help you relax, Jacobs said.

Physical activity can calm you, improve your mood, and help you curtail unhealthy habits that may have developed because of stress. Being more active can help you quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, or lower your blood pressure.

Walking is one of the most popular and least expensive forms of physical activity. Research has shown that brisk walking at least 150 minutes per week can make a big difference in improving health.

While stress may be common when facing deadlines and busy schedules, it should not be confused with anxiety, Jacobs noted. Persistent stress can escalate to anxiety, a more acute condition possibly leading to problems such as sleep deprivation and panic attacks.

If you suffer from anxiety, or fear you may be suffering from it, speak with your doctor about whether you need treatment.

De-stressing at home and work

When job and family commitments are on overload, time management can be an enormous help. It makes you feel in control of your schedule and makes it easier to deal with unanticipated “curve balls,” Jacobs said.

Parents who set unrealistic expectations for themselves may contribute to family stress and/or amplify it. When juggling a full-time job and family, try your best, and realize you aren’t superhuman.

“Children don’t need perfect parents,” Jacobs said. “They need good enough parents.”

Whether you’re a parent or not, leisure time is important. Finding opportunities to relax — whether getting together with friends, going to a movie, or enjoying a hobby — can be rejuvenating and help reduce stress.

If you receive paid vacation or personal days at your job, taking advantage of that benefit can help reduce stress while refreshing your outlook when you return to work.

After a period of declining use of vacation days, more Americans may be starting to change their vacation habits by using more paid days off, according to Project: Time Off.

Reducing money stress

Finances obviously have an enormous impact on people’s lives and can play a role in generating unhealthy stress.

In fact, it’s one of the main sources of worry, Jacobs said. “Financial planning matters a lot for overall stress management,” he said.

Unfortunately, he said, some people respond to money problems by overspending to make themselves feel good. But compulsive spending can lead to worse trouble and a vicious cycle of financial turmoil.

Instead, consider approaching money stress with moderation and reality-based planning. That can mean setting a monthly spending budget and making good long-term money decisions by improving your overall financial literacy.

To bring spending under control day to day, consider exercising or engaging in another healthy activity when you get the urge to shop or otherwise spend money unnecessarily.

And look constructively to the future so next year’s tax deadline doesn’t stress you out. Those who educate themselves about the income tax process, seek expert advice, and plan accordingly, Jacobs said, will “feel like they’re in the driver’s seat.”

This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee, or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified healthcare professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.

Things to Consider:

  • Exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep help to combat stress.
  • Try to set realistic expectations for family and job commitments. Remember you are human - not perfect.
  • Educating yourself about finances and the income tax process can help reduce money stress in the long run.

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