Heart Health Tips, Part 1: Stress
Let’s face it, our daily lives don’t allow for much mental stillness. We’re rushing from meeting to meeting, trying to stay on top of a mountain of emails and attempting to remain as productive as possible – with constant interruption; all while making an effort to maintain work-life balance. It’s a lot to stomach. You’ve probably heard the term “mindfulness” – and as overwhelming it might sound, it turns out it doesn’t take much to quiet the crowded thoughts in our minds. Try incorporating one of these practices into your routine, and not only will it decrease your stress level, but a regular mindfulness practice is known to increase productivity as well. And – bonus – it will contribute to a healthier heart!
1.) Rest on your breath
- We release the most stress hormones within 30 minutes of waking. By thinking of the day ahead, we trigger our fight-or-flight response which releases cortisol (the stress hormone) into our blood, increasing our heart rate and anxiety. So, when you first wake up try this: spend two minutes in your bed simply noticing your breath; as thoughts pop up let them go and return to resting on your breath.
- To take it a step further, try placing your hands on top of each other, palms down over your upper chest and breathe slowly and gently, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel your chest raise as you inhale and your lungs empty fully with your exhale. Localizing the area of motion and breath to underneath your hands. Take 3-5 long deep breaths in this way. Repeat the process with your hands placed at the bottom of your breastbone, and then again with your hands over your belly button. It’s normal for one area to be more difficult than another; if that happens, move to the area that was most comfortable and focus there for another round or two.
2.) Come into your body
- Take a seat making sure you’re in proper alignment. Your sitting bones should be firmly against your chair (you might need to gently tuck your tailbone forward) and your feet firmly planted on the ground. Stack your shoulders over your hips and your ears over your shoulders. Take a few long, deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Start a gentle scan of your body identifying areas you’re holding tension and attempt to release it by softening those areas. Don’t be afraid to gently stretch or adjust your body and remember to keep breathing. Begin with your toes, moving up to your knees, legs, hips and torso – move on to your wrists, shoulders, and neck – then to your jaw, face and finally the top of your crown. Do this anytime you’re at your desk, in the breakroom, or even standing in the office restroom. This simple practice will help you be more mindful of your body and relieve tension.
3.) Focus on your predominant senses
This simple practice helps train our awareness. By sitting with our senses, we’re able to gain more clarity and develop the skill of responding to stressful situations rather than reacting. Begin by closing your eyes and noticing how it feels just to sit, allowing whatever feelings come up. When a thought arises, redirect your attention to the present moment. Sit with each sense for a minute or two.
- Hearing: Sit, letting your mind absorb the sounds around you. Don’t strain looking for sounds, just notice what’s there. Don’t judge, or put words to them, just listen. There may be sounds that last a long time, sounds that come and go, or maybe nothing at all. You might hear your own breathing or the sounds of nature or traffic. Focus on resting your mind letting all go but the sounds around you. You’ll get distracted, thoughts will enter your mind and it’s normal. Simply bring your attention back to the sense of hearing.
- Touch: Make the switch by paying attention to how it feels to sit. Notice the sensation of your legs and back against your chair and the contact between your clothing and skin. Keep your attention with the whole sense of the body, remaining open. Notice when a sensation demands your attention but allow the whole body to remain relaxed. Watching feelings and sensations pop up and move on. As with hearing you will get distracted but don’t beat yourself up. Instead, lean back into the sense of touch. Remaining relaxed and open.
Meditation and mindfulness practices can seem like hard work; often we are constantly needing to redirect our attention, to bring ourselves back, and that’s okay! Over time, the ability will grow – and as it does, it’ll be easier to calm your thoughts. With emotions regulated, you’re empowered and able to effectively manage stress.
We hope these tips in mindfulness have inspired you to take action towards a healthier heart!
APP SUGGESTIONS: Buddhify, Calm, Headspace, Simple Habit
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