How Stress Increases Your Risk of Heart Disease

Life’s not perfect, and that means everyone experiences stress. From managing a disobedient child or feeling overloaded at work to struggling to make bill payments or dealing with a family crisis, stress comes in the shape of small, everyday annoyances as well as life-altering challenges. Even things that should make us happy – like planning a vacation or getting a promotion – can be stressful.

With stress creeping into our lives in so many forms, it should come as no surprise that we have just as many ways of handling stress. While some people take stressors in stride, others are easily overwhelmed. 

The Impact of Stress on Your Heart 

Acute stress (or short-term stress) can put us in a fight-or-flight mode meant to help us react to defend ourselves against immediate, short-term dangers. A surge of the hormone cortisol helps to increase our energy, while epinephrine and norepinephrine temporarily increase heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and blood flow to muscles. These reactions are designed to heighten our awareness and get us working on a solution to the problem caused by an immediate stressor.

But when managed poorly or caused by something with no end in sight, stress can lead us on the path toward chronic mental health conditions such as depression, chronic stress and anxiety, which have been linked to a number of heart disturbances, including an irregular heart rhythm or increased heart rate, high blood pressure, inflammation of the heart and reduced blood flow to the heart. In addition to heart disease, you may also experience digestive upset, muscle tension, headaches and more frequent illness due to a suppressed immune system when you experience chronic stress.

Stress can also trigger a landslide of damaging lifestyle behaviors that can increase risk for heart disease and other conditions such as diabetes or stroke even further. These include overeating, smoking, overindulging in alcohol, lack of exercise, uncontrolled weight gain and more.

And because it can take such a significant toll on your heart health, it’s important to know how to manage stress. While no one can be immune to stress, there are several ways you can protect yourself against its most devastating effects on heart health.

Get exercise

Engaging in moderate or vigorous exercise for 30 minutes a day most days of the week doesn’t just improve heart health. It can also release endorphins, improve your mood and help you fight off the effects of chronic stress or acute stress.

Get enough sleep

Most adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you’re not getting enough sleep and are often fatigued, it’s time to work on sleep hygiene – or the practices that help you get a good night’s sleep. This includes avoiding bright lights or screens for at least an hour before bed, creating a quiet, cool and calming sleep environment, and establishing a regular sleep and wake time.

Connect with friends 

Enjoying quality time with friends is a great way to unwind and forget work-related stress. Even with a busy life, you can find convenient and easy ways to connect with friends – for lunch during the workday, for a brisk walk through the park in the evenings or for a weekend get-together. 

Enjoy your hobbies

Spending time doing something you love, such as your favorite hobbies, can be a great way to relieve stress and get your mind off your cares. If you find yourself suffering from chronic stress, make time to engage in the hobbies you once enjoyed or to find new ones to love – whether baking, drawing, sewing, fishing, building or volunteering and beyond.

Practice intentional relaxation

Setting aside a few moments each day to relax can have tremendous benefits. You can listen to your favorite music, read a book, meditate or practice yoga. You can also simply take a nap or lie down and practice a technique called progressive muscle relaxation, which means to focus on specific areas of the body one at a time and to relax them intentionally as you breathe deeply.

However you choose to manage stress, just do it – before you find yourself facing a diagnosis of heart disease due to chronic stress. At Avail Hospital, we’ve seen what chronic stress can do to heart health, and while we’re here and ready to treat your heart emergency, we’d rather you not experience one at all – so reduce stress to take care of your heart, and your heart will take care of you.

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