Did you know that there is no direct link between stress and heart disease? That’s according to the American Heart Association. And they know a thing or two about heart disease! Despite there being no direct connection to heart disease, stress can still negatively impact one’s health and can cause heart-related problems.
We know that there are different kinds of stress – some positive, and some not-so-positive. As an example, planning a wedding for your daughter might be stressful, even though it’s a positive event. The same with deciding to go back to school to prepare for a new career. Or stress can be a not-so-positive thing we are dealing with such as coping with the illness of a loved one or dealing with financial or legal issues. Each of these examples still involve STRESS. Our body doesn’t know the difference between positive stressors and negative stress – we get the same physiological response.
- Adrenaline is released and our blood pressure and heart rate rise as part of the “fight or flight” response.
- Our arteries may be damaged due to that chronic increased heart rate and blood pressure.
- Our immune system weakens and we may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, anxiety, depression, and inability to sleep well, just to name a few. We each react differently to stress.
- We may find that we have high blood pressure. Exact causes of high blood pressure have not been identified, but there are factors that contribute to high blood pressure such as being overweight, eating too much, and eating the wrong kinds of foods such as too much sodium (salt). According to the American Heart Association, chronic stress does not cause high blood pressure, but it may be caused due to these other factors.
So what can we do? Each person will need to find his or her own way to deal with stress. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works. There are some things that tend to help many people, however.
- Participate in relaxation techniques. The National Institute of Health (NIH) tells us “relaxation techniques include a number of practices such as progressive relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, and deep breathing exercises. The goal is similar in all: to produce the body’s natural relaxation response, characterized by slower breathing, lower blood pressure, and a feeling of increased well-being.” Take a look at resources offered on the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website that give more information on each of these techniques as well as what the science says about them.
- Get active. Exercising is always a wonderful way to reduce stress. Not only are you burning calories and keeping your heart healthy with the physical activity, there are endorphins released that promote emotional and mental well-being as well. It doesn’t have to be running a marathon, either. Any sustained activity that gets your heart rate moving and YOU off the couch is beneficial!
- Participate in a hobby or activity that you enjoy. Maybe you enjoy reading. Or scrapbooking. Or those new “adult coloring books” that seem to be taking the shelves by storm. Whatever you enjoy, do more of it! We are meant to enjoy life, and what that means will look different to everyone. Take more time to just ENJOY and do activities that are not only fun for you, but that benefit your mental and physical health as well.
- Take a class that teaches stress management techniques. Check with your local YMCA, yoga studio, hospital, or other organizations in your community that support healthy living.
- Avoid feelings of anger and hostility that cause heart rate and blood pressure to rise. The American Heart Association tells us that since the early 1970’s, the medical community has used the term “Type A” personality to describe someone who is constantly under pressure, in a hurry, impatient, and sometimes angry, irritated or hostile, always aiming for perfection.
Recent research has indicated that anger and hostility have been linked to heart disease. This likely due to the stress hormones released in the blood when one is angry or hostile, causing a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This in turn puts added stress on the heart. Best to work on avoiding these feelings in the first place, which may be easier said than done. Talk with your doctor or a professional counselor if you struggle with constant or persistent feelings of anger or hostility.
Want to learn more about heart health? Take the American Heart Association’s Go Red Heart CheckUp to learn more about your heart health. Take care of stress and take care of YOU!
Sources: American Heart Association, www.goredforwomen.org and National Institutes of Health, www.nih.gov.