How Stress Affects Your Heart

A certain amount of stress is normal--you’re rushing out the door to get to work on time because your alarm didn’t go off; the car in front of you stops suddenly and you slam on the brakes, but chronic stress isn’t good for your health, and that includes your heart. 

Effects of chronic stress

When you’re under stress, your body secretes adrenaline, a hormone that increases your heart rate and blood pressure. As you calm down, they return to normal. But what if you feel stressed most of the time? Your systems may be elevated abnormally for prolonged periods, leading to hypertension, ulcers, irritable bowels, and more. 

The link between stress and heart disease isn’t clear, but one thing is: stress often results in unhealthy habits. You may reach for comfort food every night when you come home, or that glass of wine becomes half a bottle as you try to compensate for feelings of constant frustration. If you smoked and then quit, you may begin again. If you normally exercise, you may feel like you can’t get off the couch; you give up going to the gym. 

All of these unhealthy behaviors in response to stress—overeating unhealthy food, drinking in excess, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle—can lead to health conditions that are risks for heart disease.   

It’s important to take inventory of what you do when you’re stressed. Do you overeat? Drink too much? Rush in completing tasks and make mistakes? There are better ways to handle your stressors. 

Healthy ways to manage stress

Learning to manage stress in healthier ways is important for your heart and overall health. The following are good ways to manage your stress that can make you feel better. 

Exercise

Exercise is a great way to manage stress and prevent heart disease. When you do moderate aerobic exercise regularly, it can lower your blood pressure, raise your ‘good’ cholesterol, and reduce inflammation that can lead to heart disease. Moderate exercise under a doctor’s supervision helps prevent a second heart attack after you’ve already had one. 

Drink moderately or not at all

If your stress leads you to drink excessively, work with a counselor to develop a new habit to replace it. Drinking too much leads to cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle; it can also raise your blood pressure. 

Quit smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. It causes peripheral artery disease. Plaque builds up in your arteries, obstructing the flow of nutrients to your heart and other parts of your body. This can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other heart diseases. Your physician at Lakewood Cardiovascular Consultants can recommend a smoking cessation program. 

Eat healthy foods for a healthy weight

If you have trouble sticking to healthy food, joining a weight loss group may help. If you’re a techie and love numbers, counting calories or weighing food portions may aid you in changing what you eat. 

Counseling sessions can help develop new habits 

If you’re under stress and can’t stop an unhealthy habit, seeing a counselor may be the answer you’ve been looking for. The counselor can work with you to see what you’re getting out of the unhealthy behavior, remove triggers, increase positive self-talk, and help you replace your habit with a healthier one. If your stress causes you to suffer from ongoing anxiety, a psychiatrist can place you on safer medication to help.

Is constant stress interfering with your life? Call Lakewood Cardiovascular Consultants for compassionate cardiovascular care today to help get your health back on track.  

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