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Does Mental Stress Hurt Your Heart?

Stress is unavoidable. Especially in today’s world — a pandemic, political polarization, economic hardship — experiencing some stress (maybe lots) is inevitable. Stress has more physical effects on your body than just the knot in your stomach and anxiety, it also can affect your heart. There are some things you should know when it comes to how the stressors in life can lead to heart problems, and ways you can avoid it getting that far.

Stress and Heart Health

Over time, stress can lead increased cortisol production in the body, causing negative effects such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, increased heart rate, and poor blood flow. Such conditions can increase a person’s risk of America’s #1 killer: heart disease. There has not been extensive research on the correlation between stress and heart disease, however, the effects of stress run parallel with the causes of heart disease.

Everyone has heard of a “broken heart” after an intensively emotional negative event. There is actually some truth to the term. In medical jargon, stress-induced cardiomyopathy is the physiological side of what happens to your heart when a body experiences sudden, intense episode of stress. This can cause extreme chest pain and can even be misdiagnosed as a heart attack. Broken heart syndrome can sometimes lead to heart muscle failure, but it is also highly treatable and patients that experience it often make a full recovery after a few weeks.

How Can You Ease Stress?

The first step to managing stress is to identify what causes it. It could be difficulties at work, a tumultuous relationship, money problems—the list goes on. Stress can lead to feelings of anxiety of depression, irregular sleep patterns, decreased activity, and overeating. Luckily, there are ways a person can manage their stress levels and decrease the severity of the effects it has on the body.

Once a person has identified stressors, they can begin to work on ways to ease their physical and mental reaction to them.

Sleep: Getting more sleep is easier said than done, but if you work to give yourself normal sleep time each night it gives your body a chance to rest and recharge. You’ll wake up in the morning with a clear mind, ready to take on the day.

Exercise: More sleep gives you more energy, and you can use that energy to get some exercise. Exercise is a way to get the heart rate up in a healthy way and release endorphins that can improve your mental health. It has extensive benefits beyond just heart health, but it can also lower blood pressure, decreasing your chances of heart disease. If you find yourself taking part in emotional eating as a cushion from your daily stress, consciously pair exercise with a healthy, well-balanced diet to maximize results.

Be Kind: One of the most important things you can do to manage stress is to be kind to yourself. We are living in trying times and you are doing your best. It is easy to fall into a negative mindset when you feel overwhelmed with life. That is natural, but take a moment to relax, breathe, and find joy in the little victories.

Talk It Through: Look to your friends and family as an outlet to talk about how you are feeling because, chances are, they are experiencing similar feelings. If you want to take it a step further, look into therapy or counseling. You are never alone.

The Bottom Line

Stress is inevitable, but how you handle it is in your control. The effects of stress run beyond just your mental health, but also your physical health. Take some time to reflect on your daily stressors and brainstorm ways you can deal with them in a healthy manner to lessen the toll it has on your heart and the rest of your body.

If you are interested in talking to a heart specialist about stress and your heart health, contact us at The Huntington Heart Center and set up an appointment with one of our physicians.

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