This coming April is National Stress Awareness Month which brings the perfect opportunity to talk about the effect that stress and particularly prolonged stress can have on the heart. It is widely accepted that a certain amount of stress can be good for us, for example by providing the momentum to get things done. Too much stress though can be very bad indeed.
Feel like you’re in top gear all the time?
Chronic stress situations which never ease can make you feel like you’re constantly in ‘top gear’ and ready for battle with adrenaline production causing increased heart rate and fast breathing.
Stressful situations produce what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response which enables us to deal with whatever situation we are in but if we fail to react then this can affect blood pressure and blood sugar levels. When stress builds and there is no outlet for the effects it can have on the body and mind then there is a real danger of damage to the heart, particularly in relation to high blood pressure which can lead to damaged arteries.
Does stress cause heart disease?
There is no direct evidence linking stress to heart disease but there is little doubt that it can contribute to the risk of developing certain health issues like angina for instance. If you already have some form of coronary heart disease stress can certainly exacerbate your symptoms. The main link between stress and the effect on heart health comes from how you cope with it. Stress could lead you to indulge in risky and harmful behaviors like drinking and smoking excessively or eating too much.
All of these can potentially constitute a heart health time-bomb if they are allowed to carry on unchecked. Anyone worried that they are under too much stress and unsure how it is affecting them should visit a cardiologist without delay. It is important that you get a professional medical opinion on how your lifestyle may be impacting your heart health along with guidance and advice on steps you can take to improve matters.
How you can help yourself
The effect of stress on your health depends directly on how you learn to cope with it. If you are in a job or any other kind of day to day situation in which you are likely to encounter stressful situations, then lifestyle changes can help you. You may not be in a position to change your job or your relationships but making small, positive changes can make a huge difference. These could include:
- Following a balanced, healthy diet
- Quitting smoking
- Cut down on alcohol
- Take up some form of regular physical activity
- Learn relaxation techniques
- Learn to identify trigger points for stress
Your cardiologist will be only too happy to offer advice on how you can achieve these beneficial lifestyle changes while at the same time monitoring the health of your heart.
Other ways your body reacts to stress
Whilst a stressful episode in itself is unlikely to result in a sudden collapse situation it is the continual ‘drip drip’ effect that is so harmful. The habitual drinking, smoking and eating to excess combined with little or no physical activity are what sets you on the path towards hypertension, heart arrhythmia, headaches and even stomach pains or digestive problems. Stress can disrupt sleeping patterns and poor sleep, or the inability to sleep at all for more than short periods, can contribute towards poor heart health.
Change your habits
Instead of smoking, drinking and eating to try and cope with stress, instead get into the habit of regular heart health checks with your cardiologist.