Stress and Your Heart

Stress is like taxes… it’s not fun, but we all have to find ways to deal with it. If you think about it though, there are a couple different kinds of stress. There’s the “all-of-the-sudden” stress like when you get unexpected bad news or get into an argument and then there’s the more indolent, chronic stress like when you’re trying to work toward your next big milestone at work or plan for your future. Stress of either type can actually contribute toward heart disease if you’re not careful though. We’ll go through 2 examples of how stress can be a real heart-breaker and why it’s important to realize the importance of reducing stress in your life.

Minding Your Own Business (MYOB) Stress

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Have you ever been MYOB when someone starts yelling at you about something? Here’s an example… imagine you’re living with your spouse or roommate just watching some Bravo when out of nowhere, BAM! “Why don’t you ever do your dishes?! Every time I come home and just want to relax, I walk in and see your dirty dishes all over the counter. You’re such a messy slob…” and so on. You didn’t want to or expect to have this argument, but alas, you’ve been thrown into the trenches. That’s stressful.

What your body does when it has these types of emotional reactions is go from 0-60 in just seconds. Adrenaline and other fight-or-flight hormones kick in, which cause your heart rate to increase, your blood pressure to increase, your body temperature to increase, and for your emotions to be running high. When this happens, or if it happens frequently, it can actually cause damage to your heart.

You may have heard of a diagnosis called “broken heart syndrome,” also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Basically, this is when the heart becomes stunned by this surge in hormones and emotions and literally doesn’t function as well. It can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, and other symptoms that can make you think you’re having a heart attack. Although it’s not from a blocked artery like a typical heart attack, it can certainly feel similar. The prognosis is fairly good with the right treatment, but it goes to show you that stress really can break your heart!

Even if you don’t get into stressful situations, these hormones have daily fluctuations in your body. Did you know it’s actually more common for people to have heart attacks in the early morning for this reason? In the early morning, the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for up-regulating metabolism, heart rate, and blood pressure, reaches its highest levels in the body. Regardless of what you do to avoid external stressors, your body will always be cycling these hormones – every single day.

Strong and Steady Stress

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Strong and steady stress is the kind of stress you get over longer periods of time. Maybe your job is inherently stressful, more so than you’re comfortable with. Maybe you’re dealing with a stressful relationship or financial problems. Or maybe you’re just generally an anxious person who gets stressed out easily. Regardless, this stress takes a toll on you.

While the relationship isn’t firmly worked out, a few reasons for why stress is related to heart disease are because of the ways we cope with stress. Many people when they’re stressed don’t sleep as well, eat more, drink more alcohol, and even do other things they think help them relax like smoke. All of these things are definitely directly to heart disease. Aside from that, long-term stress contributes toward mental health issues like anxiety and depression, which also contribute to heart disease. If that weren’t enough, the same fight-or-flight hormones that can cause the MYOB kind of stress can lead to high blood pressure, which is one of the most common direct risk factors for heart disease.

So what can you do to decrease stress? Well, everyone is different, but having healthy ways to de-stress is a good start. Exercise, drawing, writing, hiking, meditating, and doing hobbies are all good techniques. There’s no one size fits all approach here since everyone is different. That said, different people feel comfortable dealing with different levels of stress. The take home message is that before you end up in heartbreak, take some time for yourself to figure out what you need to do to keep your mind and body healthy!

 

If you have questions about your heart health, contact us or visit Heartbeat Health for more information.

Published by: Mark P. Abrams, MD

I'm an Internist, Educator, and Cardiology fellow in training. As the Director of Patient Engagement at Heartbeat Health, my goal is to make trustworthy information easily accessible and more available so that people can become more active members of their healthcare teams. By joining together, we can work toward keeping more people healthier, happier, and living longer fulfilling lives.

Categories Heart Disease, Lifestyle, Risk FactorsLeave a comment

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