A busy, tense day or a stressful event can be a real drag, leaving you feeling frazzled and fatigued. But long-term, or chronic, stress can cause a number of serious health problems, according to the National Institutes of Health. It increases your blood pressure and raises your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, depression, and anxiety, among other conditions, and it can dramatically reduce your quality of life and sense of wellbeing.
Happily, there are a lot of things you can do to reduce your blood pressure both on the spot and over time. Some of them are even enjoyable, like these four fun stress busters.
- Laugh your head off. Laughing dilates your blood vessels by 22 percent, which quickly lowers your blood pressure, according to a University of Maryland Study cited by Hello Heart. Laughing also reduces your stress hormone levels, increases your immune cell function, and triggers the release of feel-good brain chemicals. Whether it’s funny cat videos on YouTube or a Netflix comedy series, giving yourself plenty of opportunities to laugh throughout the day is good for your overall stress levels.
- Bake up a storm. If you enjoy baking, breaking out the rolling pin more often can lower your blood pressure. When you’re concocting delicious things in the kitchen, your focus is on the present moment and the heart-warming aromas coming from the oven. It’s a low-key hobby that can put your brain waves in the alpha state, which is alert, but calm and relaxed.
- Create some art. Creating art has been shown through a large body of research to lower your blood pressure, decrease stress hormones, and improve self-awareness. That’s because when you’re involved in an art project, your brain waves can move to theta waves, which produces a deeply meditative, relaxed state where time loses meaning and you’re in total flow. Don’t worry if you’re not “artistic.” Just play around with a variety of art–painting, sculpture, collage, textiles–until you find what you enjoy. If you just want to color, that’s fine, too. Studies show that coloring produces the same calm state. And it’s great for when you’re stressed on the go since you can just open this mandala coloring book app for Android and do some digital doodling with 25 palettes of colors to choose from.
- Take up a physical hobby. Exercise is one of the best ways to lower your blood pressure and reduce overall stress, according to Harvard Health Publications. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of exercise each week–just 30 minutes a day, five days a week–for the best physical and mental health benefits. Finding a physical activity you really enjoy such as swimming, running, cycling, hiking, or playing basketball, will provide enjoyment and exercise to lower your blood pressure and increase your fitness level. It can open up a new social support as well, which can also go a long way toward reducing stress.
The bottom line is, doing activities you enjoy and staying mindful of how your mind and body feels each day can help you be aware of your stress level so that you can take steps to lower your blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension before they become a problem. Making stress relief a regular part of a healthy lifestyle can help you reduce your blood pressure and lead to a happier, healthier life.