You’ve found a new job, earned a bonus at work, raised a family—whatever your achievements, no doubt you worked hard to reach your goals. But sometimes in the midst of working and caregiving, the woman in the mirror gets ignored. Why do we so often put ourselves last on our priority list? Regardless of how important our external goals may seem, we aren’t doing anyone any favors if we aren’t taking care of ourselves.
The American Institute of Stress outlined numerous publications dating back hundreds of years in which researchers found a link between stressful lifestyle and coronary heart disease.
Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman co-authored a 1959 article that first introduced the Type A behavior concept; their work suggested that people with Type A personalities are more prone to heart disease. Type A behaviors can include extreme competitiveness, setting unrealistic standards for oneself, listening poorly and interrupting others in conversation, feeling superior and feeling guilty when taking a vacation or relaxing. Sound familiar?
Sadly, taking the time to relax is often what is most needed to maintain good health. Heart disease is the number one leading cause of death in the United States, with over 600,000 fatalities annually. While other things can lead to heart disease, including poor diet, tobacco use and heredity, stress is certainly a contributing factor—and one that is preventable.
There are many tools that can help reduce stress. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, is world-renowned for his work in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). He founded the Stress Reduction Clinic, now the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Their Stress Reduction Program combines meditation, yoga and other practices that reduce stress.
But perhaps your busy schedule leads you to believe you have no time for yoga or for meditation. Even if you have trouble carving 10 minutes out of your day for these stress-reducing practices, another quick tool may help you feel calmer.
Jill E. Bormann, Ph.D., RN, CS, has extensively studied the effects of mantra repetition for stress reduction. A mantra, or “mantram,” is a word or words that can be repeated to help focus attention and slow down the thought process. This can be as simple as “Peace” or “I am strong.” Bormann’s research has shown that practicing mantra repetition in low-stress situations can help train the brain to associate the mantra with calmness; the mantra can then be repeated in high-stress situations to trigger calming effects on the body and brain.
"Mantras are a Jacuzzi for the mind," said Bormann in an interview with Prevention magazine. “And unlike many stress-reduction techniques, you can literally use this anywhere, anytime."
No matter how busy your life, taking a few moments in your day to take care of yourself and recharge your own battery can make an impact on your heart health. Spend 10 or 15 minutes focusing on your breath and clearing your mind. Or, if you can’t take that much time, try to create a mantra for yourself to help calm you when the going gets tough. Your heart will thank you.