Stress and heart disease

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from a negative situation or demanding circumstances. It can have a major influence upon mood, our sense of well-being, behaviour, and health.

Constant stress has been linked to higher activity in an area of the brain linked to processing emotions and may contribute to developing heart and circulatory disease. Research from Harvard University suggests stress could be as important a risk factor as smoking or high blood pressure. So, it is important to consider that the long-term effects of stress can damage your health and is also a risk factor for heart disease.

Your body’s response to stress is supposed to protect you. But, if it’s constant, it may lead to harm. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress. Studies suggest that the high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. These are common risk factors for heart disease. Stress can also cause changes that promote the build-up of plaque deposits in the arteries.

Factors that are commonly regarded as components of ‘stress’ include:

  • depression, anxiety, panic disorder
  • social isolation and lack of quality social support
  • life events such as bereavement, diagnosis of a chronic illness, or severe life changes
  • work-related stress
  • anger and hostility.

Ways of managing stress

Stress is a key risk factor for heart disease. Knowing when to adjust your lifestyle and situation is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. Understanding stress, stress 

management and relaxation techniques can help considerably in ensuring good mental health, and in adjusting to the pressures and strains of everyday life. Here are some ways to help manage stress and keep your heart healthy.

Exercise every day – walking, running, cycling, swimming, or playing sport for 30+ minutes each day. Yoga is very good for relaxing your mind and staying flexible. Walking your dog, or meeting friends for a walk in the park, joining an exercise class that is suitable to you, either by visiting a gym or finding an exercise class in your local community. There are many options available to get moving every day.

Build a strong support system – meet friends and family regularly or join a community group, perhaps attend church in your local area, tap into a walking group or join a local club or book group. Sewing, exercise and art and craft groups are available in many communities. Your GP may also have some suggestions of ways to connect regularly with your community. 

Seek treatment for constant depression or anxiety – reach out to your GP or call helplines for support if you are feeling depressed or anxious.

Reduce stress from work 

Take some time away from work to reduce the load and take breaks when you can. Tap into the professional services available at your work to discuss issues that may be stressful for you. Holidays are important and provided to employees for a good reason – which is to help in the prevention of work-related stress. Learn to turn off from constantly thinking about work. Taking time to relax every day is important for helping with levels of stress.

Heart disease can be stressful

It’s important to remember that heart disease is stressful. Going to hospital, facing surgery and dealing with the changes in your daily life and family routine – can be traumatic. For some people, the diagnosis of a heart condition or living with ongoing health problems may be a continual strain. Managing stress and knowing when to pull back or ask for help is an important element in coping with heart disease. If you are struggling emotionally with your diagnosis or change in life situation talk to your GP, specialist or call BeyondBlue or Lifeline.

Joining a support group can help you vent your feelings and be a great way to interact with other individuals. Heart Support Australia runs monthly support groups in locations across Australia. To join call us at 0262530097 or email at office@heartnet.org.au 

Sources:

How does stress lead to heart attacks and stroke | BHF

Stress and your Heart

Stress and your heart

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Stress and heart disease

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