Emotional Stress and Heart Health – What’s the Connection

Emotional Stress and Heart Health

When you receive an unexpected bill that puts a dent in your funds, or you find a dead car battery when you are already running late, or you have to deal with family troubles, you can stress out until steam shoots out of your ears, or remain composed and repeat the mantra that “this too shall pass.”

Everyone reacts to stress and feels it in different ways. The way you react to stress can lead to different health problems. Chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, asthma, ulcer, and irritable bowel syndrome. That being said, science still needs more conclusive research to pin heart disease directly to stress.

Right now what we do know is that chronic stress definitely leads to an increased risk of heart problems. We may come across people who say that smoking and overeating are a way for them to psychologically relieve stress when at the same time these habits are damaging the arteries, and are constantly increasing your blood pressure.

On top of this, for many people, the body’s response to stress is stomach aches, back strains, and headaches. Stress eats up your energy and ruins your sleep pattern. One may feel cranky and forgetful which further leads to you feeling out of control. When you are stressed out, you may undergo a chain of events. Your body releases adrenaline which momentarily speeds up your heart rate and breathing and causes your blood pressure to rise. When the mind is under constant stress, your body remains in high gear for as long as the problem persists which can be days or even weeks.

A small part of your brain, the Amygdala, processes emotions life stress, anxiety, and fear. A brand new study shows how heightened activity in this area leads to a higher risk of heart attacks. The University of Harvard conducted a study that identified a system that connects stress to heart attacks. They looked at animal studies that showed that stress triggers the formation of white blood cells. These cells then cause inflammation, which encourages the buildup of fatty plaque in the artery.

The challenge to this research was to find out what exactly happens to the human body. The study used 293 participants who went through special imaging tests: PET/CT scans, the ones that are done for cancer screening. These tests make use of radioactive tracers which measure activity within specific areas of the brain and show inflammation present in the arteries. In the follow-up with the participants, 22 of them had undergone cardiovascular experiences like a stroke, heart attacks, and chest pains.

All of this makes one wonder whether stress management is the ultimate way to lower risk for cardiovascular diseases and ultimately attain a healthier body. Research is currently underway on whether coping with stress directly improves heart health. There are studies that make use of psychosocial therapies. They suggest that second heart attacks can be avoided by avoiding stress and depression post a cardiovascular event.

There are plenty of ways one can manage stress on their own. For example, you should not drink too much coffee. Instead, indulge in a healthy diet routinely, exercise to boost your mood, try not to smoke as often, and maintain a healthy weight and a positive attitude.

It is important to note here that medicines alone are not helpful when it comes to getting rid of stress. Some people use meds to calm themselves or to even go to sleep. It is much more beneficial for you to manage stress yourself in the long term. You can also try behavioral techniques like relaxation. The good news is that you can use telemedicine platforms to contact a licensed mental health professional.

The most important thing is that you figure out what really triggers stress and how you can deal with it before it manifests too much.

You must also not confuse stress with anxiety. When you suffer from anxiety, meds are crucial, but at the same time, you must discuss possible treatments with your specialist that excludes meds. Preferably talk about stress-relieving techniques that you can practice on your own.