stressful events are a normal part of life, and everyone experiences and reacts to stress in different ways. Since your body is supposed to protect you from stress, constant exposure to stress and anxiety is not good for your mind and body.

Have you ever wondered if stress and heart disease are linked to each other? Yes, it is true. Chronic stress, whether from an unhappy marriage, family problems, or work burden- has been reported to be linked with many health complications, including heart disease. Read on to find more information about how stress and heart disease are related.

What Is Stress?

Stress is defined as your body’s natural response to a threat or stressful situation that outweighs your body’s ability to cope with it. Your body perceives stress as a threatening and challenging event. Stress activates the fight or flight response, during which your body releases a flood of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare your body to remain in alert mode. Perpetually, these stress hormones then trigger physiological changes [1].

An example of everyday stress is giving a presentation at work, being stuck in traffic, and learning new skills. Stress is categorized into types: acute and chronic stress.

1. Acute Stress:

Acute stress is identifiable and short-term. Acute stress is considered a normal occurrence in one’s life. For example, you may experience acute stress when:

  • Getting stuck in traffic when you’re in a hurry.
  • Paying a visit to the dentist
  • Giving a presentation at work
  • Going for a job interview
  • Having to speak in public

When your body faces acute stress, it deals with it by adapting to the changes and then returns to a relaxed state.

2. Chronic Stress:

Chronic stress occurs when your body faces a challenge or stressful situation that doesn’t have a clear end. With chronic stress, your body does not get a chance to recover and return to a relaxed state. Instead, your body always remains in a heightened state to deal with an ongoing threat.
Chronic stress causes your muscles to stay tense and your heart rate and breathing to remain faster. Your digestive system doesn’t work properly, and your immune system becomes less effective [2].
Some examples of chronic stress include:

  • Financial worries
  • Challenges related to your job
  • Relationship or family issues
  • Dealing with chronic illness

Stress And Heart Disease: What’s The Connection?

There has been extensive research on the association between stress and heart disease. Stress has been reported to be a major risk factor for heart disease, and high levels of stress could also worsen other risk factors of heart diseases, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. For example, if you’re stressed, you may overeat, your blood pressure increases, and your chances of smoking increase [3].

Chronic stress also makes your body constantly exposed to abnormally high levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Your risk of developing heart disease increases when chronic stress alters the way blood clots.

There has also been an indirect association between stress and heart disease. When you’re under stress, you become sleep-deprived, you’re less likely to make healthy food choices or exercise, and you become unable to maintain your weight. All these lifestyle changes increase your risk of heart disease and stroke [4].

What Does The Research Say?

When your body is under a constant state of stress, your heart is negatively affected by the stress response. According to a study of 118,706 participants from 21 countries, researchers found that elevated levels of chronic stress were associated with a high risk of:

Another study reported that the risk of cardiomyopathy had been shown to increase with chronic stress. Cardiomyopathy is a progressive disease in which heart muscle weakens and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood [6].

What Is The Potential Mechanism Behind The Link Between Stress And Heart Disease?

A lot of studies have been conducted to explore the mechanism of how stress influences heart health. In one paper published in 2017, researchers found that heart disease was connected with the activity of the amygdala, a critical brain region involved in processing fear and stress. The amygdala is also responsible for initiating the stress response.

It was reported in the study that there was a higher activity in the amygdala of 293 people, which increased the production of WBCs in the bone marrow. The increased production of WBCs then caused inflammation in the arteries. The increase in artery inflammation and bone marrow activity increased the risk of heart attack, stroke, and angina.

Higher perception to chronic stress was linked with an increase in:

• Levels of C-protein, a response to inflammation in the body.
• Inflammation in the arteries
• Increased activity in the amygdala [7]

How Can You Manage Chronic Stress To Protect Your Heart?

It is impossible to avoid everyday stress, but there are many ways to overcome stress and cope with it to protect your heart health. Here are some useful stress management strategies:

1. Get Enough Sleep:

Having restful sleep is vital for your physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation makes you feel tired and less concentrated, which makes it hard for you to deal with stressful situations.
Sleeping for at least 7 to 9 hours is quite helpful in managing stress.

2. Try Relaxation Exercises:

Your stress can effectively be eased with relaxation techniques. For example, they can make you feel calmer and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Some relaxation techniques include:

  • Mindfulness activities
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Aromatherapy
  • Deep breathing exercises

3. Make Time For Friends And Family:

Spending time with friends and family and increasing social interactions can help you better cope with stress.

4. Get Regular Exercise:

Exercising regularly not only lowers stress levels but also boosts your mood. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily to cope with stress.

The Takeaway:

Many research studies have been conducted to confirm the link between stress and heart disease. Stress puts your heart health at risk by increasing inflammation in the arteries and the activity of the amygdala in the brain. Chronic stress also worsens other risk factors of heart disease, such as smoking, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Adapting effective stress management strategies can help protect your heart.



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