How Stress Affects Heart Health

Everyone responds to stress in different ways. The amount of stress that you feel and how you react to it can impact every aspect of your well-being – physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. Excessive stress can contribute to a number of health problems such as high blood pressure, anxiety, decreased immune function and digestive issues. Your body’s response to stress may include headaches, back, neck or stomach pain, disrupted sleep and low energy. When stress is constant, your body releases adrenaline as part of the “fight or flight” response of your sympathetic nervous system. This hormone increases your breathing, heart rate and causes your blood pressure to rise. Additional research is needed to fully understand how stress contributes to heart disease, but we do know that how we react to stress can influence behaviors that increase the risk of heart disease. For example, during times of stress many people experience high blood pressure, overeating, inactivity and may turn to alcohol and smoking as a way to cope with their stress. These habits can increase your risk of heart disease.

Manage Stress to Reduce Your Risk

Managing stress is key to improving your overall wellness, and positively impacting your heart health as well. Below are five ways you can help reduce stress and strengthen your heart.

Exercise

Stress hormones can put an extra burden on the heart, and exercise can help ease stress, lower heart rate, reduce blood pressure, control weight, improve muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from circulating blood and strengthen the heart.

Laugh a Little

Daily laughter has been associated with lower prevalence of heart disease and is linked to healthy function of blood vessels, according to research. Laughter causes the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels (the endothelium) to expand in order to increase blood flow, whereas stress has the opposite effect, constricting blood flow.

Meditate

A growing body of research has examined how meditation alters the body’s response to stress and indicated that mediation is associated with improved responses to stress. While not fully understood, studies have also shown an association between mediation, a reduction in blood pressure and incidence of heart disease.

Take a Breather

Several studies show that practicing deep breathing immediately lowers resting blood pressure and activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps the body feel relaxed and calm.

Unplug

Taking a break from TV, emails and your phone can help ease mental and emotional stress. Make time every day to escape from the fast-paced world – read a book, get a massage or go for a walk in nature.
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