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Educational health information to improve your well-being.

The Effects of Stress on Heart Health

February 20, 2018
Published in: Heart, Mental Health

changing a flat car tire

Whether it's an unexpected bill, a flat tire, or an argument with your spouse, stress is a regular part of the human experience. Do you pop your top or stay super chill when you're confronted with stressful issues? Are you someone who strives to take everything in stride or do the veins in your forehead start to pulse at the mere hint of an obstacle in your path? How you deal with stress can affect your quality of life and shorten your lifespan.

Everyone experiences and reacts to stress in different ways. Of course, sustained levels of stress and how you deal with it can adversely affect your heart. Understanding how stress affects your heart and developing strategies to deal with stress can help you avoid setting yourself up for heart problems in the future.

How Does Stress Affect Your Heart?

Stress levels for Americans are at an all-time high, and so is heart disease. Stress can affect your behaviors and habits, creating higher risks for heart disease by engaging in unhealthy activities like:

  • Overeating
  • Smoking
  • Drinking excessively

Using habits like these to manage levels of stress can increase blood pressure levels and damage artery walls.

Stress causes your body to release adrenaline that speeds up your heart rate and breathing. It also causes your blood pressure to rise. These reactions help to prepare you to deal with stressful situations. Unfortunately, when stress is constant, your body can stay in high gear for days or weeks at a time. This can put extra stress on your heart and affect your body's ability to cope with life in general.

What Do You Do When You're Stressed?

When you're feeling stressed, do you rush around like a chicken with its head cut off? Are you tempted to chill out using cigarettes or alcohol? Does it provide you with relief if you bury your problems by working too much? Are you using food to try to calm yourself? If you're engaging in these types of unhealthy stress management techniques, you're also putting yourself at risk for heart disease and a heart attack.

Will Managing Your Stress Help Prevent Heart Disease?

Managing your stress is helpful for your overall health and can help your body deal with health issues and situations that can negatively affect your heart health. When you take measures to ensure your stress levels are appropriate, it makes sense that your body and your heart will also reap the benefits of a more relaxed you. While it's not entirely clear whether stress directly affects heart health, poor stress management techniques certainly do. You'll be less likely to turn to smoking or drinking to excess if you're managing your stress levels in a healthier way.

What Can You Do to Manage Your Stress in a Healthy Way?

There are many options for stress management. Some people find it helpful to meditate or pray. Others like to exercise or play sports. Just trying to maintain a positive attitude can be helpful, even if you must "fake it until you make it."

You don't have to limit your techniques to the ones we've mentioned. You can do what feels right to you, whether that be taking a walk, enjoying a bubble bath, or reading a book. As long as what you're doing isn't something that can cause health concerns, do what makes you feel relaxed.

Are There Medications to Help with Stress Management?

Medications can be helpful in certain situations, especially when you're dealing with external factors contributing to sustained periods of stress, or you have issues with chronic anxiety. If you think you might have chronic anxiety, it might be helpful to see a family physician about your symptoms. Additionally, figuring out how stress "pushes your buttons" is vital to dealing with it effectively.

No matter where you go or what precautions you take, you'll never be able to escape stress entirely. You can reduce your daily stressors by making schedule adjustments and saying "no" when other people's requests have the potential to overwhelm you. In most cases though, it's not the stress that is the problem; it's how you choose to handle the pressure. So, make every effort to ensure your stress doesn't rule your life and lead you down a dangerous path. Start by talking with your family doctor.