Stress and Heart Health – What Is the Connection?

We’ve all been through stressful situations. It is normal for today’s people to experience some level of stress during their lifetime, and in fact, people in the 21st century have been recorded to be the people under the most stress in history. This has a large impact on everything that happens during their lifetime, and what goes on around everyone.

Believe it or not, the connection between stress and heart disease have been studied for a while now, and scientists have been seeing more correlation between the two the more in-depth they study them together. In addition to this, since the people in the 21st century are experiencing more stress than ever, the risks of heart disease is peaking at the highest it’s ever been. Of course, it is also due to the foods we eat and the environment we live in, but the effects of stress on our hearts are amplifying these damages and making the chances of heart problems more probable.

Older people are not the only ones who experience these peaks in heart disease risks, but younger generations are also becoming more susceptible to these problems. Young people are becoming increasingly busy and therefore increasingly stressed. The majority of you people in America report feeling acute stress as a “normal day” in their lives; and the majority of them are contributing it to the increasingly tough pressure they are under to finish school, pay off debt, and find a well-payed job in their field. Many are also under the stress of raising a family at the same time.

Stress Hormones and Heart Risks

As mentioned above, older people are not the only ones affected by stress but young people are too. So, what is stress and why is it so bad for the heart? Well, stress is produced by the adrenal glands as a reaction to diverse stimulations throughout the day. The adrenal gland not only produces adrenaline, but also cortisol and norepinephrine. These 3 chemicals are what our brains interpret into being stress. They are totally fine in our system in the correct amounts, but the second the production and release of these become too high, our bodies begin having negative reactions to them (like anything in excessive amounts).

The risk of heart disease and issues are connected to the secretion of these 3 chemicals. The effects these have on our system are accelerated heart rate, heart muscle strain, and high blood pressure. These effects are actually produced when we are nervous or aroused as well, therefore they are completely normal (hence when we are about to speak to our crush and our heart beats a bit faster and our breathing becomes a bit shallower).
When the stress levels become higher than acute (episodic acute stress and chronic stress) the risks and complications at bay get to be much more serious, and unfortunately, probably.

What Can Go Wrong?

Above you can see the risks of acute stress level, but what are the risks when the stress levels surpass acute? Well, depending on the person, they can be anywhere from cardiovascular disease to heart failure.When it comes to episodic stress the risks tend to be: chest pain due to overworking the heart muscles, and blood clots due to the excess of the three main stress chemicals (adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine). These are all probable in people under that amount of stress no matter the person’s age.

Cortisol excess is also the source of complications like Cushing’s disease which is a gateway to more complications such as arterial failure due to high blood pressure, obesity, excessive blood clotting, and high cholesterol/ triglycerides which causes buildup in the heart’s arteries, therefore causing more risk of heart attack or heart failure if stress does not subside or become lesser.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, gives way to risks such as cardiovascular disease. This disease carries with it many complications and can manifest itself differently depending on the person. One can experience one or more of the symptoms, and unfortunately many of these bring with them long-term risks and consequences.

The symptoms of cardiovascular disease are: atherosclerosis (which is a condition that refers to plaque buildup in the arteries, restricting blood flow), heart attack (from excess blood clotting), both ischemic strokes (blocked blood vessel leading to the brain) and hemorrhagic strokes (burst blood vessel caused by hypertension, a.k.a. high blood pressure), congestive heart failure (irregular blood flow within the heart), and arrhythmia (referring to both bradycardia and tachycardia; irregularities in heartbeat speed).

Broken Heart Syndrome

You may have heard of something called broken heart syndrome, and you are not the only person who has wondered if it really exists. To answer your question, it does in fact exist and can, in fact, come about in people under either emotional or psychological stress. The reason it is normally present in people under a lot of stress is that their hearts are usually already under a lot of pressure (literally), and when the final event takes place, their heart simply gives out.

The scientific explanation of this syndrome refers to the weakening of a very important portion of muscle that controls the heart. Other names this ailment is known as is takotsubo cardiomyopathy and stress-induced cardiomyopathy. But, since it is known to happen in people that have been through a lot of stress related to things like, for example, caring for a terminally ill loved one who later passes away its name suggests that it happens because of the loss and grief the person experiences. But, we now know that it is due to a continual weakening of the heart throughout the stressful time and the stress finally overbearing the heart, leading to a temporary or long-term paralysis of an essential muscle.

How to Try to Reduce Stress to Prevent or Reverse Heart Risks

Everyone has something that helps them feel calm, reduce stress, and feel more relaxed. This kind of activity varies from person to person and can have less or more effect on them depending on the level of stress they are under. But when it comes to relieving stress, there are always options and different things you can try if you feel like the current methods aren’t helping you enough.

In order to prevent heart risk from stress, an important factor to consider is that your heart is already under some level of strain. Therefore, some suggest that you try not to put it under more strain. Exercise should be one of your go-to stress-relieving activities since physicians around the world say that it prevents and reduces the effects of heart disease, and usually suggest that their patients begin an exercise routine or stay with the one they have been doing.

Exercising promotes good circulation, regulates heart palpitations, unclogs coronary arteries (therefore reducing the risk or strokes, heart attacks, and poor circulation), and cuts the chances of getting heart disease in half.

Practicing good eating habits also have an impressive impact on both your heart’s health and your mental health. If a person going through stress begins to lack any kinds of nutrients, the effects of stress will actually be amplified; because not only is the person under mental and emotional strain already, but he/she isn’t getting enough nutrients, therefore, straining his/her system altogether. If you keep up a good diet full of protein, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats, you’ll find that your mood becomes increasingly better over time, and the risk of heart disease or heart failure disperses.

Reading, listening to music, or having a nice “down day” or a “spa day” whenever you have a chance can also help you relieve the stress on your mind, and begin to dissipate the risk of heart complications. Also, spending time with friends and/or loved ones has shown to reduce stress up to around 30%. So, combine all the things you most enjoy, and begin to feel your best at once.

Ethan Zohn Campaign

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