Continuing with our February theme of heart health, I want to talk about the important link between chronic stress and heart disease and hopefully inspire you to keep a close watch on your stress level.
While stress is the body’s response to perceived danger, prolonged stress is destructive and hard on your body and heart. For years in the medical community, we have known that psychological stress contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease . Several reasons are because stress can raise your blood pressure, cause overeating and increase the likelihood or frequency of smoking—all of which contribute to the chance of cardiovascular disease developing.
Stress can come from a variety of sources in your life such as your job, relationships, finances, lack of social interaction, and mental illness. Research has shown that Post-traumatic Stress Disorder increases one’s risk of heart disease by 27% . We also know that depression and anxiety also increase the risk of developing heart disease . Clearly there is a link between stress and heart disease, but do you know what’s most important?
Learning what causes YOU to feel stressed!
Even with my own personal focus on health, I find that I start to get heart palpitations when excessively stressed. It’s my own personal warning sign that I need to dial it back and take a stress break.
Do you know what your warning signs are? You know the ones that say you’ve crossed the line from I’m just busy to I am really stressed out?
Here are common warning signs of stress . . .
- Constant worrying, racing thoughts and inability to focus
- Heart palpitations
- Skipping meals or loss of appetite
- Tension headaches or migraines
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Restless or inability to sleep soundly or fall asleep easily
- Moodiness, irritability, shortness of temper, agitation, sense of loneliness or depression
- Using alcohol, drugs or cigarettes to relax
Some patients say they don’t have time for “stress management activities” or healthy stress reducing habits. When in reality, stress can cause you to be less productive due to reduced energy levels and feelings of being distracted. I always say if you’re not proactive about managing your stress, you will have to make time to manage its effects later.
So what can you do to manage stress?
You’ve heard me say it before, but regular exercise is key! It delivers the “one-two punch” because it makes your heart stronger and decreases your stress levels. More on my favorite ways to exercise here.
Meditation has also been proven to be an effective form of stress management and it only takes about 20 minutes a day . Journaling, yoga, and practicing an art are all ways of meditating. So choose one that fits with your interests and lifestyle. Check out more ways to de-stress here.
If exercising and meditation are not enough to keep your stress levels down, then I highly recommend talking with your physician about how you are feeling (especially if your stress is causing you depression).
The most important part of stress management is being proactive about it. So take a few minutes to identify your “triggers” and what you will do to grab a stress break when it’s needed! All of us face stressful moments, but with a proactive approach you will help decrease the negative effects of stress and keep your heart healthy.
- Rozanski A, Blumenthal JA, Kaplan J. Impact of psychological factors on the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease and implications for therapy. Circulation.1999;99:2192-2217.
- “Stress and Heart Disease – WebMD.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. <http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/stress-heart-attack-risk>.
- Edmondson, D., Kronish, I., Shaffer, J., Falzon, L., & Burg, M. (2013). Posttraumatic stress disorder and risk for coronary heart disease: A meta-analytic review. American Heart Journal, 166(5), 806-814. doi:10.1016/j.ahj.2013.07.031
- Gale, C., Batty, ,., J, Tynelius, P., & Rasmussen, F. (2014). Mental disorders across the adult life course and future coronary heart disease: evidence for general susceptibility. Circulation, 129(2), 186-193. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.002065
- “Stress Management.” – Healthy Lifestyle. N.p., 19 Mar. 2011. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/basics/relaxation-techniques/hlv-20049495>.