Everyone experiences some level of stress at different points in their life. Some people experience very little stress, while others may feel overwhelmed by it on a regular basis. But, can stress cause more harm than just your mental health?
Can stress cause damage to your heart? There have been several studies done on this very topic in hopes of discovering what link, if any, there is between stress and heart disease.
Especially since the CDC lists heart disease as “the leading cause of death in the United States,” it is important for not only medical professionals but for the general public who can take steps to lower their risk where possible.
Knowing not only what stress is, but what you can do to reduce it in your own life can lower your risk of secondary illness associated with stress.
What is Stress?
While most people can generally describe what stress is, the Mental Health Foundation defines stress as the “feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressures.”
Stress is the body’s built-in response to actual or perceived danger–a protection mechanism at its basic level that triggers one’s fight-or-flight response. Based on the severity and longevity of the stress experienced, people may feel and be diagnosed with different levels of stress: acute, episodic acute, and/or chronic stress.
Acute stress describes most temporary stress; stress that does not interfere with one’s life in an extreme way. This may be triggered by situations such as being stuck in heavy traffic or running late for work.
Episodic acute stress is experienced by those who live in a state of tension or are experiencing “a mini-crisis.” If accumulated, acute stress can transform this level of stress, and this level can begin to cause negative physical effects on the body.
Lastly, chronic stress is usually long-term. This can be experienced by those going through bigger issues such as war, poverty, and other situations out of one’s control in which the demands are unrelenting. Chronic stress can produce chronic illness, so this level is extremely dangerous.
What are the Symptoms of Stress?
The symptoms of stress can manifest in several ways and stretch across several parts and areas of the body. Some may be easier to spot than others, so the more knowledge that you have, the more informed you will be regarding your health. Some of the mental symptoms of stress include, but are not limited to:
- Feelings of anxiousness or nervousness
- Feelings of fear
- Feelings of anger or aggressiveness
- Feelings of sadness
- Feelings of irritability
- Feelings of frustration
There are also symptoms of stress that show themselves in physical ways on the body such as the following:
- Indigestion and other digestive issues
- Racing heart
- Aches and pains that seem “random” in nature
One can also identify symptoms of stress in their daily behavior such as:
- Having issues falling or remaining asleep
- Finding oneself withdrawing from social situations
- Sexual issues
Is There a Link Between Heart Disease and Stress?
Many scientists and health professionals have looked into whether there is a link and/or correlation between stress and heart disease. What they have found is that high levels of stress in a body puts strain on the body’s vital organs, including the heart.
They also found that stress may lead to unhealthy behaviors that are not healthy for the heart. These behaviors can include, but are not limited to the following:
- Lack of Exercise
Also associated with stress is a generally negative overall psychological health, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
An increase in stress hormones in the body causes physical damage to the heart and other organs by slowing, reversing, or generally damaging their normal and vital function, such as weakening the heart muscles and changing the way that one’s body clots blood, which is a definite heart risk.
Lastly, stress can cause an increase in blood pressure, which is a key factor in heart health. Overall, those experiencing more than acute stress on a regular basis can lower their risk for heart disease and other physical effects of such by managing their stress in a healthier manner.
How Can I Manage My Stress?
Managing your stress may seem easier said than done. However, it may be worth some work, especially if your stress is beginning to affect other parts of your life, such as your physical health.
Here are just a few ways that you can take control of your stress:
- Learn what your triggers are
- Manage your time wisely
- Engage in relaxation practices
- Exercise daily
- Spend time on self-care
- Eat healthier foods
- Get enough adequate sleep
- Avoid other harmful substances
- Seek help from professionals
If you want more information on how stress may affect your heart health or any other questions regarding your cardiac well-being, contact Dr. Corwin Thomas and his staff at CT Cardio for the most up-to-date information and advice.
Don’t stress over your heart health–seek help from Dr. Corwin Thomas, a top cardiologist in Lafayette, Louisiana!