Life stress seems unavoidable. Whether you experience stress at home, at work, or because of self-imposed goals, excessive mental tension translates to poor health–particularly cardiovascular health. What follows are reasons why stress may affect your heart and what you can do to protect it.
Why Stress Harms Your Heart
While the exact disease mechanism is largely unknown, cardiology researchers agree that continual life stress seems linked to inflammation. Inflammation affects many body systems, including the cardiovascular system and in particular, the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are the large blood vessels that take oxygen-rich blood directly to the heart muscle.
As stress and inflammation increase, the coronary arteries and other blood vessels, including blood vessels in the lower extremities, accumulate fatty plaque. This build-up leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and even tissue death.
Doctors also think that stress causes people to indulge in certain behaviors. Habits such as overeating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and being sedentary can all stem from stress. These lifestyle habits, combined with hereditary factors, damage the heart and the rest of the cardiovascular system.
Protecting Your Heart from Stress
Stress can be helpful at times, as it can motivate you to accomplish tasks, set goals and move on in life. However, constant stress and anxiety are counterproductive, and changing our mindsets and ingrained habits reduces the strain on the heart–thus reducing blood pressure and that damaging inflammation.
Here are four strategies your heart doctor in Syracuse, NY, may recommend for your de-stressed and heart-healthy life.
1. Reduce Your Screen Time
That means you need to take a break from your laptop, TV, phone, and other digital methods of information bombardment throughout the day.
It’s also recommended to put your phone down and turn off your computer and TV one hour before you go to bed to limit your blue light exposure. The CDC states that the blue light from digital devices harms natural sleep cycles, and the less quality sleep you get, the more stressed you’ll feel.
Movement and exercise raise the levels of endorphins in your body, which is a natural “happy hormone”. The higher the level of endorphins you have, the less stressed out you will feel.
Besides affecting your mood, exercise helps you lower your blood pressure, increase the strength and efficiency of the heart muscle, and help you keep a proper body weight and waist size.
3. Learn to Relax
Prioritize activities that help you feel less stressed and well, happy. Listen to soothing music, engage in a hobby, or spend time with the people you love and who love you. You will feel your heart rate slow, see your blood pressure drop and experience less muscular tension–all great indicators of better cardiovascular health.
4. Adopt a Positive Attitude
Clinical studies show that positivity may be linked to lower cortisol, a steroid that your adrenal glands produce in reaction to stress.
Cortisol directly impacts the cardiovascular system by causing stress to the heart, which can be detrimental if chronic. Researchers also indicate that laughter and being positive may increase levels of beneficial HDL (good cholesterol) in the bloodstream.
Set aside time each day to breathe deeply, relax your muscles and meditate or pray. Problems such as hypertension decrease, at least temporarily, when people put their minds, bodies, and hearts on intentionally peaceful things.
Cardiologist Near Me
To arrange an in-person consultation with one of our premier heart doctors, find our cardiologist nearest you here. Our doctors have undergone years of medical training to provide you with the best care possible. We even have a specialist in pediatric cardiology.
We see patients at the Heart and Vascular Center at Upstate University Hospital, Syracuse VA Medical Center, and at the six locations of the University Cardiovascular Group. Additionally, you may email us at DeptMedicine@upstate.edu.
Remember, we are here to help you de-stress and to have the best possible cardiovascular health and function.