Stress is inevitable.
We’re all going to have it in our lives. Short-lived stress is somewhat necessary. It can help us meet a deadline, achieve a goal, or even avoid danger.
But ongoing stress from things like financial strain, relationship woes, or problems at work negatively impacts our health and our hearts.
Is stress the ultimate heartbreaker? It might be. Read on to find out why.
How Chronic Stress Affects the Heart
Chronic stress affects us emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Insomnia, headaches, tense muscles, stomach upset, depression, and fatigue are a few of the symptoms that can manifest in the body from ongoing stress. Not surprisingly, researchers find that ongoing emotional stress increases our risks of cardiovascular disease and events. Stress can cause coronary blood vessels to spasm, increase the body’s oxygen demand, and disrupt the cardiac conduction system.
“Our results provide unique insights into mechanisms translating stress to cardiovascular disease and raise the possibility that alleviation of psychosocial stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological wellbeing, by improving the atherosclerotic milieu,” say researchers in the above study. “Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, one that is routinely screened for and effectively managed, similar to other major cardiovascular disease risk factors.”
Additionally, chronically fretting contributes to heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, increased heart rate, smoking, overeating, poor diet, obesity, and inactivity. It’s a double whammy and can be a vicious circle of stress causing symptoms and symptoms causing more stress.
For example, stress can disrupt sleep and a lack of quality sleep (7-9 hours a night) can cause stress. When we have insomnia, we are advised to get up after 20 minutes of tossing and turning rather than lying in bed stressing about sleep time lost because of this.
Managing Stress for Wellness and Heart Health
What do we do? How do we protect our mental wellness and our hearts?
We’ll probably never be rid of stressors. In fact, it’s suspected that half of us still feel stress, anxiety, or even have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to the pandemic. For that half of us, it’s hard to make decisions, plan ahead, or regulate our emotions because of persisting stress.
To protect our hearts and overall wellness, we can try to reduce our stressors, yet many are out of our control. That’s why changing how we react to stress has the most impact. Fortunately, the ways we reduce our risks of heart disease and stroke are also key for stress management. Here’s how they help:
- Exercise, quality sleep, a healthy diet, and time with friends ease stress and lower inflammation in the body.
- Following a set schedule, cultivating a positive attitude, and practicing perseverance helps us build good habits and have better moods. (Avoid overwhelm by starting with small goals!)
- Invigorating hobbies can distract us from our worries and bring more joy to life. Plus, many of them can be enjoyed with friends.
- Practicing acceptance of ourselves and the world, despite bad days and events, can ease our internal pressure. We’ve been through a lot and are where we are today.
- Scheduling downtime ensures that we balance stress with relaxation. Listening to music, doing yoga, meditating, walking, breathing exercises, and reading are just a few ways to relax.
- Seeking help for mental health is as important as seeking help for the heart. Self-care doesn’t have to be a solo mission. Massage, acupuncture, counseling, and group therapy can help us relax and heal. Parenting groups and listening partners help us share the burden.
- Sharing woes with health care providers, as we would physical symptoms, helps them treat us holistically. It’s especially important they know we’re having chronic stress if we have cardiovascular issues or a family history of heart disease.
Stress may be the ultimate heartbreaker. If so, connection and ease can be the greatest heart healers. When we proactively manage the stress in our lives, we protect our wellbeing – and our hearts.
Need resources to help with stress management? Try these:
- Build a Bedtime Ritual for Your Best Sleep Ever
- Deep Breathing Exercises for Stress Management
- Laughter – Free Therapy for the Blues and Pain
- 10 Habits for Healthy Blood Pressure
- Explore Different Styles of Meditation
- Add Spark to Your Life – 11 Ways to Get Inspired
- 10 Tips for Exercising to Reduce Inflammation