12 Free Ways to Stop Stress

Lower your blood pressure and keep your wallet fat with these 12 no-cost ways to relax and manage stress.

A tough economy may hurt your financial well being, but don't let it threaten your cardiovascular health.

"Psychological stress including major life changes, financial difficulties, and problems with personal relationships can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and possibly even affect angina or cause chest pains related to coronary heart disease," says Keith C. Ferdinand, M.D., chief science officer for the Association of Black Cardiologists and a professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Fun and recreational activities often are the first things to go when budgets get trimmed. If people turn to smoking, overeating, or excess drinking to cope with stress, they compound the physical damage, says Redford Williams, M.D., director of Duke University's Behavioral Medicine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Which relaxation methods work best -- and are safest to try -- will depend on your preferences and heart health. "Not everything is right for everybody," Williams says. In addition to relaxing, "you may have to confront the source of your stress and make changes," he advises.

The bottom line is that you don't have to spend lots of money on a day spa, fitness club, or big night out.

Read on for Heart-Healthy Living's 12 healthful and free ways to relax, based on sound medical research.