You have probably heard in the past that stress can have a negative impact on your health, but you may not fully understand the specifics of the impact long-term stress can have on your body. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, the body jumps into action, releasing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Experiencing this stress response on occasion is natural and useful to help us avoid dangerous situations. However, this primal reaction hasn’t fully evolved with our modern world where stressors more closely resemble impending work deadlines than being chased by a wild animal. As a result, many people experience stress and the associated physiological response far more often than is healthy.
How Stress Hormones Impact the Body
When adrenaline and cortisol pump through the body, a sequence of events prepares you for action. Your heart rate increases, your energy soars, and your glucose levels and blood pressure spike. These changes allow you to focus and take quick action in the moment. However, for those who suffer from chronic stress, that “moment” can turn into days or weeks of stress responses that come and go.
Stress and the Cardiovascular System
With frequent episodes of stress comes frequently elevated blood sugar and blood pressure, two conditions which are well-known contributors to heart disease. Furthermore, those who are often under stress may use less than healthy coping mechanisms such as eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol and smoking.
All of these factors add up to harm the body in a myriad of ways, not the least of which is damage to the artery walls and subsequent plaque buildup. This buildup impedes blood flow and can even lead to complete blockages. As a result, the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke are far higher than normal.
Managing Stress to Protect the Heart
Some people are simply more prone to stress than others, whether due to their genetic makeup or past experiences. For these individuals, it is especially important to learn healthy coping mechanisms that can effectively reduce stress. The most commonly effective stress reduction techniques include:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Meditation or mindfulness
- Antidepressant and Anti-anxiety medications
Keeping an Eye on Heart Health
Regardless of stress levels, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping a watchful eye on heart health is important for everyone. You can begin by scheduling an appointment with a cardiologist to discuss your healthy history, current health concerns, and assess the overall state of your cardiovascular health. This will give you insight into the steps that you should be taking now to protect yourself in the future against America’s number one killer: heart disease.