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Daily stressors are associated with poor health behaviors that put African-American adults at greater risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a recent study.

The results suggest that primary care doctors, cardiologists and other health care providers should ask their patients about stress to help them identify ways to manage and improve their health. But recognizing your own stress is also a huge factor in bettering your health.

The researchers used the American Heart Association’s Life Simple 7 measures to categorize each participant’s cardiovascular health as poor, intermediate or ideal. The measures include smoking, diet, physical activity, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar level.

Participants also completed surveys about their exposure to chronic stress, minor stressors and major life events, such as the death of a family member. The study found that African-American adults with higher stress levels were more likely to have overall poor cardiovascular health.

Ultimately, the study’s findings add to existing research on the health of African-Americans that shows stress is linked to the quality of health.

African-Americans are much more likely than their white peers to die from heart disease or stroke, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data also show that risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, are more common among African-American adults than white adults.

The findings from the new study point to the need for stress management strategies that could help African-American women and men improve their health and live longer. Those initiatives could encourage adults to exercise and to turn to friends and family to help them cope with stress. 

Addressing the relationship between stress and cardiovascular health, especially in African Americans, will take the entire community. But recognizing the issue of stress on our health is the first step. 

Fight Stress with 10 Healthy Habits

Slow down: Plan ahead and allow enough time to get the most important things done without having to rush.
 

Snooze more: Try to get six to eight hours of sleep each night. To fight insomnia, add mindfulness and activity.
 

Let worry go: The world won’t end if a few things fall off of your plate.  Give yourself a break and just breathe.
 

Laugh it up: Laughter makes us feel good.  Don’t be afraid to laugh out loud, even when you’re alone.

Get connected: A daily dose of friendship is great medicine.  Make time to call friends and family so you can catch up.

Get organized: Use “to do” lists to help you focus on your most important tasks, and take big projects one step at a time.

Practice giving back: Volunteer your time or spend time helping a friend.  Helping others helps you.

Be active every day: Exercise can relieve mental and physical tension.  Find something you think is fun and stick with it.

Give up bad habits: Too much alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine can increase blood pressure.  Cut back or quit to decrease anxiety.

Lean into things you can change: Make time to learn a new skill, work towards a goal, or to love and help others.

Top 10 Emergency Stress-Stoppers

Emergency stress stoppers are actions to help defuse stress in the moment. Here are some ideas:

Count to 10 before you speak or react.

Take a few slow, deep breaths until you feel your body un-clench a bit.

Go for a walk, even if it’s just to the restroom and back. It can help break the tension and give you a chance to think things through.

Try a quick meditation or prayer to get some perspective.

If it’s not urgent, sleep on it and respond tomorrow. This works especially well for stressful emails and social media trolls.

Walk away from the situation for a while, and handle it later once things have calmed down.

Break down big problems into smaller parts. Take one step at a time, instead of trying to tackle everything at once.

Turn on some chill music or an inspirational podcast to help you deal with road rage.

Take a break to pet the dog, hug a loved one or do something to help someone else.

Work out or do something active. Exercise is a great antidote for stress.

For more information about stress management and other tools, visit www.heart.org

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