Stress is often a part of daily life, and not all stress is bad, but living under a cloud of excessive stress is harmful to your well-being and bad news for your heart. The way stress affects you can have very real consequences for your heart health.
Everyone experiences and reacts to stress in different ways. Whether you’re under stress at work or have strained relationships, it’s important to manage stress so you stay healthy and avoid chronic stress-related health problems.
At CA Heart and Vein Specialists, cardiovascular physician Majed Chane, MD, and our clinical team want to help you keep your heart as healthy as possible. Stress is an often-overlooked contributor to diminished heart health. Here, we address how chronic stress affects the heart and what you can do about it.
Why is stress bad news for your health?
When you feel stressed, your body releases chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol that help the body combat stress. This is meant to be a temporary response to help your body compensate for and cope with a stressful situation.
People aren’t designed to handle constant, unrelenting stress. Chronic stress promotes inflammation, a hidden culprit behind chronic conditions, including heart disease.
Stress and your heart
Cardiologists are working to understand the exact role of stress in heart disease. Recent advances in science have established a key role of inflammation in the stages of heart disease.
Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) involves an ongoing inflammatory response. Markers for inflammation are linked to coronary artery disease. And elevated markers for inflammation are linked to a higher risk for heart attack.
Fighting inflammation may help prevent heart disease, and managing stress is one way to combat inflammation.
Stress can lead to habits that put heart health at risk
Mounting stress can cause you to engage in unhealthy habits such as drinking, smoking, overeating, and eating unhealthy foods. These habits raise your risk of heart disease: Excessive alcohol intake and smoking damages blood vessels and promotes atherosclerosis, while indulging too often in unhealthy foods contributes to an unhealthy cholesterol profile.
What’s more, when you’re stressed, you may feel less motivated to engage in healthy habits such as exercising.
Stress-relieving activities lower inflammation
Managing stress helps combat inflammation. Stress-busting activities such as mindfulness meditation have been shown to increase activity in areas of the brain that decrease stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to significantly reduce C-reactive protein, according to a study published online in 2019. C-reactive protein is a key marker for inflammation. An elevated level of C-reactive protein is linked to heart disease risk and may predict the chance of having a heart attack.
Another study found that mindfulness meditation also reduces interleukin-6, another inflammatory marker. Researchers observed changes in the brains of participants who underwent mindfulness meditation training. These brain changes promoted stress resilience and improved the brain’s ability to handle stress.
Protecting your heart health
Eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol, and getting plenty of physical activity are cornerstones of preventing heart disease. Now, you can add engaging in stress-relieving activities to that list.
While doctors have more to learn about the connection between stress and heart health, it’s known that stress contributes to behaviors that put heart health at risk and that stress promotes chronic inflammation. By tackling stress in your daily life, you’re taking a positive step in keeping your heart as healthy as possible.
Your heart health is our top priority. To discuss your heart health and all of your cardiovascular needs, call 657-206-8491 to schedule an appointment, with Dr. Chane, or request a booking online.