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Keep it cool! Avoiding high blood pressure in a stressful job.

We are all aware of the positive impact a healthy diet and exercise regimen can have on our heart health. While most of us keep these factors at the forefront of our mind, we often forget the negative impact stress can have on our hearts.

When we experience moments of high stress, our body responds by releasing a stress hormone called cortisol, causing our arteries to narrow and increasing our heart rate. Continuously elevated cortisol levels can heighten blood pressure, damage blood vessels and encourage the build-up of plaque, increasing our risk for a heart attack. As many of us experience tight deadlines and heavy workloads more often than we would like, these tips are designed to help you deal with demanding jobs.

1. Keeping a daily to-do list is a commonplace tool for time management. It helps to visualise the task at hand and can give a great sense of achievement when we get to tick things off. However, this can seem daunting and unachievable on occasion. Instead of listing off every single thing you need to complete, both long and short term, try jotting down priorities. Outlining tomorrow’s priorities, the night before, can help you understand what deadlines have to be met and help keep perspective.

2. When assigned a project at work, it is normal to feel protective and want to see it through until the end. However, if part of the task is causing you undue stress, consider delegating to someone on your team. This will not only aid their development but allow you to concentrate on the bigger picture without getting bogged down in the finer details.

If you do not manage a team and are finding a particular task extremely stressful, consider having a short catch-up with your line manager and discussing the aspects that you find challenging. More often than not, you’ll find the task can be reassigned or a compromise can be reached.

3. We all can be guilty of powering through a work day with an end goal in sight, only to lose focus or feel like we’ve hit a brick wall in the late afternoon. Did you know that dehydration can not only affect your energy, but your cognitive functions and mood, too? Our brain is fuelled by water and adequate hydration supplies our brain cells with fresh oxygen, which in turn keeps our brains alert. When we experience even mild dehydration, concentrating on an important task will be difficult and stress levels will increase.

Keep a large, reusable water bottle on your desk to sip on throughout the day. Not only will you feel and work better, the walk to the water cooler can be a welcome two-minute break from the computer screen. It’s important to note that low blood sugar will have a similar effect, so snacking every 2-3 hours will help keep cognitive function at its best.

4. Sometimes when a stressful job ends, we never want to think of it again! While crossing things off our list can be a relief it is important to assess and reflect if you found yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Ask yourself if you perhaps underestimated the workload, or maybe an aspect of the task was beyond your skill set. Jot down what caused you the most stress and ask yourself if this will be a part of the next task you are assigned? If so, it might be best to request further training or support from your team to avoid repeating the same cycle.

5. We often promise ourselves we won’t take work home or check emails while with family, however fully switching off can sometimes seem impossible. While some jobs require long hours, it is important to set boundaries when it comes to work. If you have to take the job home with you, try work in a room without distractions so the task can be completed quickly. Another effective tool is to set a time where you will no longer engage with work – this could include turning your work phone off every weekend or disabling email notifications after 6pm. When in work, always ensuring to take a lunch break or a short walk during your day, an hour away from your computer screen or a couple of moments in the fresh air will help you work more efficiently in the late afternoon.

Dealing with stress may sometimes be unavoidable, however we should always try to prioritise our health when feeling overwhelmed. Too much stress can result in our heart health suffering, so although it can be difficult, always remember to tackle stress one step at a time – your heart will thank you in the long run!