If you’ve ever been worried or stressed, you’ve probably heard the expression, “You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack!” While generally used as a euphemism, research shows that there is, in fact, a link between stress and heart attacks.
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Stress has a long list of adverse effects on not just our mental state, but on our bodies too. And it’s all around us. We experience stress at work, stress from parenting, and we can even inherit the stress of others. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, it’s inescapable.
If it’s inescapable, are we all doomed to die from stress? Luckily, no. Stress is not a direct cause of death. However, there is a link between stress and heart attacks. From brain chemicals to cardiovascular effects, eating habits to interpersonal relationships, stress impacts it all.
The Effects of Stress on the Body
Although stress is generally felt in our minds as a response to our external environment, it produces real, tangible changes in our bodies. You’ll notice that when your stress levels are high, you feel different physically. You may be tired or have insomnia, have trouble concentrating, experience muscle tension and aches and pains.
Enter the Release of Cortisol
When we become stressed, our bodies release a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and has been deemed “the stress hormone.” Cortisol has several essential functions in the body, such as regulating blood sugar levels and reducing inflammation.
However, when cortisol levels become elevated for too long, the hormone starts to have detrimental side effects. These effects include high blood pressure, increased cholesterol and triglycerides, and failure to perform its regular function of regulating blood sugar levels.
Perpetually high levels of cortisol can restrict blood flow to the heart, depriving of it the oxygen it needs to keep pumping. It can also cause plaque to build up in your arteries, constricting your vascular system, making it even harder for blood to make its way to the heart.
All of these symptoms are associated with a higher risk of a heart attack.
Add to It the Release of Adrenaline
Similar to cortisol, adrenaline is another hormone that’s released by our adrenal glands in response to stress. Surges of adrenaline lead to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and rapid breathing. While these symptoms on their own, experienced for short periods, are nothing to worry about, chronic stress that causes the effects to be longer-lasting can impact your heart.
Fast heart rate and high blood pressure both put a strain on your heart, causing it to work harder than it has to support the rest of your body’s internal systems. If you’re frequently stressed, releasing adrenaline into your body, your heart will see the consequences.
The Effects of Stress on Lifestyle
Stress doesn’t just affect these essential biological functions. It can also significantly alter the lifestyles of those who suffer. Studies show that people who experience chronic stress report higher rates of anxiety and depression, as well as decreased levels of energy.
What impact does this have on the heart? Individuals who struggle with depression, anxiety, and low energy levels often don’t eat as well as they should or exercise as regularly.
Sedentary lifestyles have been linked to a higher risk of heart attack, blood clots, and stroke. Poor diet is linked to high cholesterol, the build-up of plaque in the arteries, and heart disease.
While it may seem that the effects we see from stress are “no big deal,” they can have very serious consequences.
The Battle Against Stress
Now we know that chronic stress is most definitely linked to higher risks of a heart attack. So, what can we do to combat that risk? The battle against stress is as old as time, but there are some simple solutions that you can start implementing into your daily routine today.
Ways to lower stress levels include:
- Taking time for self-care
- Finding a hobby that you enjoy and making time for it
- Exercise regularly
- Make sure you get enough sleep
- Manage your time wisely, use an app if you have to
- Remove yourself from toxic environments
Stress is part of life, and while it’s something that we have to accept, it is not something that we have to succumb to. Due to the effects that it can have on heart disease, it’s crucial to find a balance and to manage stress effectively.