We’ve all experienced stress…whether it’s the bills piling up, a relationship going wrong, or something as mundane as winding up in a traffic jam. It seems there’s always something fraying our nerves and causing us to tear our hair out. But stress is more than just an annoyance; it can have actual, serious effects on your health, particularly your cardiovascular health.
So how exactly how does stress affect your heart and what can you do to prevent it? Scientists have yet to determine how stress contributes to heart disease but we do know that it can cause a series of reactions that can affect your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, thereby increasing the risk of developing heart disease.
Stress and Your Heart
When your body is under stress, it releases a burst of adrenaline, a hormone that can increase your heart rate and cause rapid breathing. This is what is responsible for the “fight or flight” effect that prepares your body to deal with the stress. This reaction can be taxing in short bouts, but when the stress is ongoing this heightened alertness and the increased heart rate and blood pressure that goes along with it can become a constant, which is even more damaging.
At the same time, being under stress for even a short amount of time can cause people to overeat or to smoke or drink to excess, all of which can be very bad for the heart as well. Eating habits can become particularly poor during times of stress and that can lead to a buildup of fat, cholesterol and sugar in the system, all of which can cause clogged arteries, poor blood flow and generally poor heart function.
Smoking can cause dangerous increases in blood pressure as well as damage to the artery walls. This can leave you more vulnerable to serious cardiac events including heart attack and stroke. The longer you experience stress and engage in these unhealthy responses to it, the more permanent damage you could do to your cardiovascular system.
Several studies have been conducted to determine whether managing stress levels can help to reduce or prevent the risk of heart disease. Some results have been positive, particularly relating to the use of psychosocial therapies in reducing stress. This approach, combining both psychological and social elements, has been shown to help reduce the chance of second heart attacks.
In general, we know that eating right, exercising and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake can all help to alleviate stress and improve cardiovascular health. There are many relaxation techniques you can employ to help combat stress, including yoga, meditation and aromatherapy. Finding a sense of calm and balance through these and other methods is the key to managing stress and maintaining good health.
What You Can Do
It is not always possible to avoid stress entirely, but you can make a concerted effort to prevent stress from negatively affecting your life and, most importantly, your health. This is particularly true when it comes to your cardiovascular health. If you do find yourself in a stressful situation, and we all do at one point or another, try your best to not let that stress cause you to engage in unhealthy activities that you will regret in the long run.
Take yourself out of the situation, take a few deep breaths, rest for a while, then come up with something that will occupy your time and get your mind off of the stressful event. Read a book, watch a good movie, call up a friend or relative or just go outside and walk around the block. All of these things will help alleviate the stress, which will go a long way towards reducing any heart related damage caused by stress.