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Have you been on vacation recently and returned a “different” person? Unfortunately for all of us, vacations are a distinctly occasional indulgence. Whether it is work, finances, or family obligations keeping you home, these impediments don’t have to stop you from enjoying the benefits of living like you are on vacation every day.

No matter where you live or what you do, there is always beauty to behold. While we dream of exotic places to visit, take the time to enjoy your immediate surroundings, seeking out places and sites that you may have passed in the car hundreds of times but never truly noticed or appreciated. This is one of the secrets of living a more mindful life, reducing stress, and ultimately improving your heart health.

Look, stress is a normal part of life and not something we can avoid entirely. But the fact is that our reactions to stress, not stress itself, are what causes so many of our cardiovascular problems. The faster heartbeat, sweating, tunnel vision, and more are all wired into our DNA –fight or flight. These were reactions that our ancestors needed when under threat from human or animal dangers. However, unlike today, those threats were transient, and so were our ancestors’ reactions to them. However, with latent stress affecting most Americans, we live a life on the edge. Beyond the physical changes we experience, we also trigger hormonal responses in the release of cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones, in particular, can create changes in our bodies, including overeating and fat retention, that can eventually affect our hearts and general health.

While on vacation, we often let go, but at home, Americans tend to put more pressure on themselves than their lifestyles and jobs expect or need. The result is often burning out mentally and physically. It ends in retirement and later years that cannot be enjoyed because of the multitude of heart-related disorders that we slowly developed over the years.

Some actionable tips, whether you are at work or home, include:

Taking a proper lunch break – spending more time at meals almost universally means eating better. We tend to rush our mealtimes which makes us overfull. Because of our busy schedules, we often opt for less than healthy fast foods that can be detrimental to our hearts and other bodily functions.

Take breaks throughout the day – Sitting and worrying about a stressor in your life is not a true break. Instead, consider going outside in the sun and taking some fresh air. Walking can melt away some of that stress and clear your mind to find an answer.

Prioritize your sleep – most of us don’t get nearly enough sleep, and this lack of sleep can lead to catastrophizing, worsened stress, and physical and mental ill effects.

Exercise – getting up and around and increasing that heart rate not only improves your cardiovascular health but releases endorphins that can make you feel better and avoid the worst effects of stress.

Hydrate – it may seem simple, but so many of us are dehydrated. Dehydration leads to poor mood, lack of exercise, physical dysfunction, and overeating. None of these are good for stress or heart health.

Of course, we must also recognize when we need help. There’s nothing wrong with visiting your primary care physician, mental health professional, or, of course, your cardiologist to understand more about the stress you are experiencing and how to manage it. We are always here to work with you on a plan to improve your life and lifestyle, so please don’t hesitate to contact the office.