Have you ever been late for an important meeting, stuck in unmoving traffic? Your heart starts pounding and the tension moves to your muscles. You begin to feel so anxious that you think you’re about to have a heart attack.
So, what is the connection between stress and heart health?
What you are feeling is the well known ‘Fight or Flight’ response. This response, first described by Harvard physiologist Walter Canon (ref. link), is activated when the body is under stress and therefore releases a combination of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This response is entirely natural but can become harmful to your body and heart if triggered repeatedly or for extended periods of time. This can result in irritability, loss of appetite, insomnia, and according to Healthline (ref. link), high stress levels can also lead to high blood pressure, which contributes to increased cardiovascular problems. In addition, extreme stress or anxiety elevates your average heart rate over time, possibly leading to heart palpitations and other serious health problems.
There is a significant amount of research (ref. link) that shows a steady connection between our psychological and physiological functioning. What this means is that your body, and specifically your heart, will feel the impact of any psychological stress your mind is under. A healthy resting heart beats between 60 to 100 times per minute, but under stress this can increase by 38 beats a minute. According to the Lancet study (ref. link), emotional stressors also have the ability to trigger massive cardiovascular events. This study (and others like it) conclusively shows that stress can not only cause chest pains, but can even lead to a heart attack in certain severe situations.
What is Chronic Stress? As per heart.org (ref. link), chronic stress is continuous stress that makes your body feel like it’s in response mode for days, or even weeks. It may lead to high blood pressure, which further elevates the risk for heart attack and stroke. Chronic stress can raise the oxygen demand on the body, spasm of the coronary (heart) blood vessels, and electrical instability in the heart’s conduction system. This increases the heart rate and blood pressure, pushing the heart to work harder to produce the blood flow required for bodily functions (Source: JAMA) (ref. link)
Normally, your body is expected to fight stress in a way that protects it. However, when that same response is constantly triggered for extended periods of time, it can have harmful effects on the body. When the body is under stress the hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine are released. Adrenaline increases the heart rate in order to increase energy levels, norepinephrine increases blood flow to the muscles while also raising the heart rate, and cortisol releases glucose into the bloodstream leading to the gradual narrowing of the arteries. Studies (ref. link) suggest that the high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can raise blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure, all of which are the common risk factors for heart disease. Furthermore, this stress can also induce changes that stimulate the buildup of plaque deposits in the arteries.
This mind.org article (ref. link) refers to some of the most easily recognizable symptoms of stress such as irritability, anger, impatience, nervousness, feeling depressed, and more. While these can be easily noticed and resolved, the underlying symptoms of stress can remain hidden and therefore become problematic. In stressful situations you may experience difficulty in decision-making, an inability to concentrate, nail biting, restlessness, forgetfulness, and irritability.
There are many ways one can manage their stress and prevent it from severely affecting their overall health. The most important thing to do is to accept that you are experiencing stress, and that you need to try and control it. Below are some ways in which stress can be reduced:
Get some exercise: Even 30 minutes of physical activity a day can go a long way in relieving stress. Regular exercise lowers the risk of cardiovascular problems and is known to keep depression and anxiety at bay.
Rely on your support system: Engaging with your support system effectively, whomever that may be, is one of the best ways of combating chronic stressors. Doing activities with those you consider a support system increases serotonin levels and thereby helps in reducing stress significantly.
Eat healthy: Adding stress-relieving food items to your diet will not only help you get rid of stress, but will also help your heart heal. According to AARP (ref. link), foods such as sweet potatoes, spinach, yellow bell peppers, and avocados are all considered to be good options to calm you and improve your mood.
Let the stress guide you: This is only If the stress you are under does not have any severe effects and does not become a roadblock in productivity. In this case try to use the stress to motivate yourself.
Finally, you can monitor the impacts of stress on your heart health using a heart monitoring device like the Frontier X2. Find out more about this revolutionary technology here.
Monitor your stress level. Are you always stressed and don’t have enough ways to handle it? If your answer is yes, you are more likely to have heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pain, or irregular heartbeats.
Yes, your heart can recover from stress through appropriate management techniques. Sometimes, medication might be required along with treatment.
As per the studies, going through stress all the time could increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Excessive stress can cause heart attacks if not effectively managed.
The major difference between both is heart rhythm. In heart problems, there is an extra heartbeat in the upper and lower chambers. Symptoms could be feeling an initial skip or hard thumping beat followed by a racing heart. When anxiety is triggered, the heart rate generally increases steadily rather than suddenly.
Below are the most common physical signs of stress:
Other Heart Health Topics To Explore:
Heart Healthy Tips | Arrhythmia Symptoms | Acid Reflux | AFib Risk Factors | Low Resting Heart Rate | Heart Attack Symptoms | Persistent Atrial Fibrillation | Cardiovascular Disease | Heart Rate During Exercise | Best ECG Monitor