It’s been dubbed a ‘modern plague’ – but just how serious a health risk is stress? After all, we’ve all heard people say things like, ‘Calm down, you’re going to give yourself a heart attack!’ Here’s a look at how stress might affect your heart:
Firstly, stress isn’t always bad for us. Our stress hormones actually play an important role in triggering the ‘fight or flight’ response and propelling us into action. These are mainly cortisol (which increases the supply of glucose/sugar in your bloodstream) and adrenalin (which makes your heart race, boosts your blood pressure and gives you an energy surge).
But we’re not designed to be in a state of chronic stress. Today’s hectic lifestyles mean many of us are constantly frazzled, so our stress hormones remain elevated. The same can happen when you’re going through a difficult or demanding life phase, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that long-term stress could have negative effects on our health.
More research is needed before we can fully understand how stress affects our heart health. However, there is evidence stress triggers physiological responses that can increase inflammation in the arteries – and we already know inflammation is a key factor in conditions like heart attacks, angina and stroke. A recent Harvard University study even suggested stress could be as important a risk factor in heart disease as smoking and high blood pressure.
Stress could negatively impact our hearts in more indirect ways too. People with healthy lifestyles generally have a lower risk of heart disease – but stress can make us more likely to make unhealthy choices, such as smoking, drinking higher amounts of alcohol, or comfort eating with high-sugar and high-fat foods. Stress can also impact our sleep, and poor sleep is also linked with higher rates of conditions including cardiovascular disease.
Managing stress is something we can all attempt to do as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. While avoiding stress entirely isn’t possible, little things can really help – like eating well, getting regular exercise (physical activity can really help rebalance stress hormones) and plenty of sleep. Make time for relaxation and fun too. You could also try activities like yoga or mindfulness meditation – but just getting outdoors for a walk more regularly can be beneficial!
If you are concerned about your heart health, or any symptoms such as chest pain, breathlessness, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or palpitations, book an appointment to discuss your heart health with leading London heart specialist Dr Syed Ahsan.