Release the Pressure is bringing together Black women from across America — reminding them that self-care is good for the heart.

A million Zoom meetings. Your never-ending to-do list. The news. The workload at home and on the job. Sometimes, we’re so used to the stress that we forget what peace feels like.

Then there’s the unrest over social injustices facing the Black community and the impact of COVID-19 on those you love, or caring for children and parents while working full-time.

With all that’s going on, self-care is really self-defense. It’s how we can stand up to personal, cultural, and political stress. Now — even with everything going on — is the time to give your heart some TLC.

The Release the Stress 7-day Challenge is all hitting pause on some source of drama, just for a bit.

For these 7 days, your goal is to:

Get Active: Do at least 15 minutes of exercise each day, like walking, dancing, or yoga.

– OR –

Get Sleep: Go to bed earlier each night — start with 15 minutes and build up to an hour.

Why — and How — to Release the Stress

Whether it’s a car speeding through a red light, caring for a sick loved one, or stirring in worry about what’s on the news, stress can lead to high blood pressure. Here’s how:

  1. A stressful situation causes your body to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream.
  2. These hormones get your body ready to combat the stressor by raising your blood pressure temporarily.
  3. When this stress is sustained, it is called chronic stress, and it can lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol.

This is why putting a pause on any unnecessary stress is a must for your heart and mind. We can’t negotiate this into last place anymore.

Stress-reducing habits like getting enough exercise each day and sufficient sleep each have to become as important as handling our business at work or in the home.

These changes are small but mighty. Whether you choose to get moving or get some more sleep, your stress levels can go down — and so can your blood pressure.

sleep and exercise

Use Exercise and Sleep to Release the Stress

Regular exercise can lower your stress levels by 26%.

Exercising for more than 4 hours a week can lower your risk of high blood pressure by 19%.

Yoga can reduce stress by 86% — and improve sleep by 59%.

Sleeping more than 6 hours a night can reduce your risk of developing — or worsening — high blood pressure.

Sources: Science Daily; American Heart Association; US Department of Health and Human Services; MayoClinic

Stress can show up on your face, too. More sleep is a natural way to finally get rid of bags under your eyes.

Getting a good quality of sleep for six to eight hours, getting enough exercise, reducing stress, watching what you eat in terms of nutrition and portion sizes, and decreasing the amount of sodium in your food. These are some things that could be done to reduce and/or manage hypertension, in all groups, but particularly in African-American women.
Icilma Fergus, MD
Icilma V. Fergus, MD

Manageable (But Effective) Tips to Get Moving on Your Challenge

Not sure where to start? No problem. Here are 3 tips to set yourself up for success:

  1. Pick your start date. When do you actually have time to commit to releasing your stress? For instance, don’t pick your busiest work week of the year.
  2. Make a plan. Mark your 15 minutes of exercise on your calendar for each of the 7 days. Or, organize your evenings to allow for an hour of extra sleep (and reach out to your support system ASAP). 
  3. Talk to your healthcare provider. Let them help you achieve your stress-releasing goal. 

Try one of these videos on Headspace to start releasing your stress now:

No Excuses: Dealing With Your “But’s”

Between the naysaying voice in your head and daily assaults Black women face for just being black and female, it’s easy to talk ourselves out of taking these steps to reduce stress and protect your heart. But here’s a way to combat those doubts:

You won’t have time until you make time. Something else may need to come off your plate, like your TV time each night. Remember, the exercise challenge is only 7 days. Block out time each day to get your body moving. And seriously — make this time untouchable. The-answer-is-no, send-them-to-voicemail, and off-limits time for 7 days.

Some of us have to leave our communities for basic things like parks and gyms, environments that typically motivate us to work out. If you can’t get to a different space, then let’s try to make do with what you have, like a living room or a backyard. Find a FREE workout app that requires no equipment, turn up your music, and do this — for you.

Understandable. But, exercise actually provides you with more energy by increasing your blood flow and releasing natural endorphins to make you feel better.

The good thing about exercise is that your options are endless. Don’t like running? Don’t do it. Find an exercise that you actually enjoy. Try a virtual dance class, cycling, or yoga. Or, put on your favorite podcast while walking on the treadmill, and you’re done.

Working late is common — especially right now. If you can’t adjust your bedtime, see if you can adjust your wake time to just an hour later. Or, try to fit in a 10 to 20-minute nap during the day, which can also help you manage stress. If some task that prevents you from getting enough sleep can come off your plate, who can you reach out to for help over the 7 days?

Okay, so your goal is to induce drowsiness before you go to bed. If your brain is still going and you’re whipping through a to-do list, you’re going to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed well into the night. Start by unplugging from electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. Try reading or listening to soothing sounds to get your body and brain into a calm state.


Personal Wellness Vision Board

Have you updated your vision board lately? Visualize your goals — and make them happen!

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Share Your Journey

Let’s motivate each other! Share your stress-releasing journey with other women who are committed to Releasing the Stress.

Who Can Help You Lower Your Stress? Apps, Organizations, and Products We Recommend to Release Stress

Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation


Sign Up For the Release the Stress Challenge

Sign up for the Release the Stress Challenge, and commit to just 7 days of exercise or an extra hour of sleep to reduce your stress, lower your blood pressure, and improve your heart health.

Peer Pressure: Let Your Girls Know About Your Commitment to Your Heart

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