The Connection Between Heart Health and Stress

(From UMPC Health Beat)

We all get stressed from time to time, whether while sitting in traffic or after a tough conversation with a co-worker.

Some stress is normal, but when our stress becomes chronic or excessive, it can cause health and heart risks. Although minimal, researchers have preliminary findings on how stress affects your heart health.


Signs That You Might Be Stressed

Stress affects each of us differently. Some people may experience back strain, stomach pains, and headaches. Others may lack energy, sleep poorly, or feel anxious or depressed. When you encounter a stressor, your palms might sweat and your heart might race.


How Stress Impacts Your Heart

Heart health and stress are connected because of the body’s natural stress response. When you face a stressor, like an unexpected bill, an overflowing schedule, or critical feedback, your body releases adrenaline. Your breathing and heart rate increase, and your blood pressure might also rise. This is the “fight or flight” response. If your body never descends from fight or flight into rest and digest mode, you’re in a state of chronic stress.

According to the American Heart Association, stress can cause symptoms that put you at risk for heart disease, including long-term high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Stress can also lead us to engage in behaviors that raise the risk of heart disease, like smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol heavily, overeating, and avoiding physical activity. These habits can cause damage to the heart’s artery walls. According to Harvard Health, stress may also trigger inflammation, a known instigator of heart disease, although this result hasn’t yet been demonstrated by a significant body of research. In some circumstances, people may suffer from heart attacks after receiving traumatic news.

Managing Stress for Heart Health

Alleviating stress requires both quitting unhealthy, stress-related habits and reducing exposure to significant stressors. Research on heart disease and stress suggests that using psychosocial therapies may help prevent a second heart attack. Consider discussing stress-management techniques with your health care provider. Your physician may recommend maintaining a healthy diet and an exercise regimen to lower stress, trying meditation, and occasionally unplugging from media, email, and social media, even if only for 15 minutes per day.

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