How is Stress Affecting your Heart?

Chronic stress has been found to be as dangerous as smoking 5 cigarettes a day.  Crazy, right?  

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That’s because stress can contribute to everything from elevated blood pressure, to high cholesterol, to stomach and bowel issues.  Both high blood pressure and high cholesterol are considered to be major risk factors for heart attacks.  

High cholesterol contributes to the narrowing of blood vessels, making it harder for blood cells to move throughout the body while high blood pressure can cause the blood vessels to harden and stiffen, making them more susceptible to blockage.  All bad things for heart health.  It is believed that high blood pressure, in particular, is responsible for 50% of heart attacks, and strokes.  

What Stress Does to the Heart and the Body

In short, stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is what causes a “fight or flight” response, resulting in high blood pressure, a faster heart rate, and slowing down of digestion.  It can also contribute to weight gain, complicate existing illnesses such as diabetes, and lead to anxiety and depression. These physical reactions all increase your cardiovascular disease risk.  How you feel and perceive stress is important for heart health, so anything you can do to reduce stress may improve heart health in the future.  Taking good care of yourself is also vital to curbing stress, so be sure to get plenty of rest and regular exercise.  Simply, eat well, don't smoke, and limit your alcohol consumption.

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Managing Stress for Heart Health

The most obvious way to deal with stress is to avoid situations that cause the stress in the first place.  If you can’t avoid stress, here are some approaches that may help you minimize the effects:

• Find a hobby

• Take a walk, listen to music, or read a book

• Exercise

• Eat a healthy diet (add some stress busting foods to it!)

• Talk to friends, family, and others who are supportive

• Breathe slowly and deeply to help stop the flight-or-fight stress response

• Meditate

• Escape mentally by creating a calm peaceful image in your mind

• Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking recreational drugs

• Talk to your doctor about ways to manage stress

• Take a time out: walk away from a stressful if you have to, until you calm down

• Distract yourself – sometimes the simple act of enjoying a beautiful scene, watching children play in a park, or smelling a flower can help you put things in perspective and lighten your mood

• Count to 10 – sounds basic, but counting gives you a chance to rethink the situation

This list may seem long, but the same tactics don’t work for everyone.  In general, you should visit your doctor regularly to monitor and maintain your health.  This will allow you to catch any stress related health issues before they get worse.  You should establish daily habits to improve overall health and well-being, and exercise.  Exercise is one of the easiest and best ways to relieve stress, and help you to stay looking good and feel better.