How Does Stress Impact Your Heart?
“Yes. We get it. Stressed is bad, relaxed is good. But we’re all stressed. Life is stressful. What should we do about it?”
April is Stress Awareness Month, and according to the UK Mental health Foundation, 74% of adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
However, stress is an inevitable fact of life, and we cannot tell you to cut out all stresses in your life (as a matter of fact, that’s not healthy either).
The most important thing is to manage stress in your life, and limit the amount of stress you can change, that you are exposed to. It’s important to take a step back and understand the underlying biological factors that lead us to being stressed, and what it does to the heart.
Stress is your body’s response to a change or a challenge. Long-term stress raises your risk of heart disease. If you have heart disease, long-term stress also makes you more likely to have a heart attack. An emotionally upsetting event, especially one involving anger, can be a trigger for heart attack. Stress also may indirectly raise your risk of heart disease if it makes you more likely to smoke, eat unhealthy foods, or less likely to exercise.
The Guardian recently published a user’s guide on how important it is to understand the body’s reaction behind prolonged exposure to high amounts of stress in a lifetime. When stress occurs regularly over a long time, it does increase risk of heart issues in the future.
“Stress increases blood pressure and temporarily makes the blood stickier and more likely to clot, meaning that, over prolonged periods, it can raise the risk of heart disease.”
However, it’s important to note that research does not condone to be chill and relaxed without any stress or challenging times in life.
“The pursuit of a stress-free life is not healthy.
It is like exercise. It’s uncomfortable, but you build stamina and strength.”
Professor of Clinical and Experimental Psychopathology at the University of Manchester
In so many of these situations, we realise that moderation is key, and the ways in which to manage stress become crucial. But when stress overtakes you? Here’s what can happen:
- Headaches and migraines . When you are stressed, your muscles tense up. Long-term tension can lead to headache, migraine, and general body aches and pains. Tension-type headaches are common in women.
- Depression and anxiety. In the past year, women were almost twice as likely as men to have symptoms of depression. Women are more likely than men to have an anxiety disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Research suggests that women may feel the symptoms of stress more or get more of the symptoms of stress than men. This can raise their risk of depression and anxiety.
- Heart problems. High stress levels can raise your blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, high blood pressure can cause serious health problems, such as stroke and heart attacks. Younger women with a history of heart problems especially may be at risk of the negative effects of stress on the heart.
Often stress is managed through smoking or overeating, and it is understandable that some resort to this as a coping mechanism.
What Her Heart implores you to do is have a clear understanding that stress is ok. Then, if possible, remove yourself from that stressful situation and identify the issue that has caused the stress. Some immediate things to help you cope with stress are as follows:
To understand how much you are feeling stressed in your life, Berkeley University has created this helpful online tool to identify your stress level, and possible ways to manage it. Take the quiz today by clicking here.