Stress and ‘Your Heart’

Everyone feels stress in different ways and reacts to it in different ways. How much stress you experience and how you react to it can lead to a wide variety of health problems — and that’s why it’s critical to know what you can do about it.

Stress and Your Heart
More research is needed to determine how stress contributes to heart disease — the leading killer Worldwide. When stress is excessive, it can contribute to change in behaviors and factors that increase heart disease risk: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating. Some people may choose to drink too much alcohol or smoke cigarettes to “manage” their chronic stress, however, these habits can increase blood pressure and may damage artery walls.

Dr. Om Murti Anil
Senior cardiologist

And your body’s response to stress may be a headache, back strain, or stomach pains. Stress can also zap your energy, wreak havoc on your sleep and make you feel cranky, forgetful, and out of control.

A stressful situation sets off a chain of events. Your body releases adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up, and your blood pressure to rise. These reactions prepare you to deal with the situation — the “fight or flight” response.

When stress is constant, your body remains in high gear off and on for days or weeks at a time. Although the link between stress and heart disease isn’t clear, chronic stress may cause some people to drink too much alcohol which can increase your blood pressure and may damage the artery walls.

Can managing stress reduce or prevent heart disease?
Managing stress is a good idea for your overall health, and researchers are currently studying whether managing stress is effective for overall health and heart disease. Studies using psychosocial therapies – involving both psychological and social aspects – are promising in the prevention of second heart attacks.

After a heart attack or stroke, people who feel depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed by stress should talk to their doctor or other healthcare professionals.

What can you do about stress?
Exercising, maintaining a positive attitude, not smoking, not drinking too much coffee, enjoying a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight are good ways to deal with stress. Medicines are helpful for many things, but usually not for stress. Some people take tranquilizers to calm them down immediately, but it’s far better in the long term to learn to manage your stress through relaxation or stress management techniques. Be careful not to confuse stress with anxiety.

When you’re under stress, do you:
eat to calm down?
speak and eat very fast?
drink alcohol or smoke?
rush around but do not get much done?
work too much?
sleep too little, too much, or both?
slow down?
try to do too many things at once?

Engaging in even one of these behaviors may mean that you are not dealing with stress as well as you could.

If your stress is nonstop, stress management classes can also help. Look for them at community colleges, rehab programs, in hospitals, or by calling a therapist in your community.

Adapted from AHA

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