Stress is a common factor in nearly everyone’s life, but how often you experience stress (and how severe it is) can take a toll on your body. Stomach aches, headaches, and muscle tension are common physical responses to stress.
As an experienced cardiologist, Dr. Henock Saint-Jacques wants you to know how stress impacts your heart too and — most importantly — what you can do to reduce stress and protect your heart from complications like high blood pressure.
What is stress?
Stress is normal, and in some cases, stress can be a good thing. Stress is your body’s reaction to a demand or some event in life. Stress can be acute (short-term), such as a deadline at work or a bee flying by your face. Stress can also be chronic, which means your body is still reacting to a stressor even after it’s gone.
In short bursts, stress can be a good thing. It can help motivate you to complete a project by a tight deadline, or it can help you avoid dangerous situations. On the other hand, chronic stress is the type of stress that takes a toll on your body.
Chronic stress can show up in many ways. You might experience:
- Lack of focus
- Stomach problems, including constipation, stomach aches, and diarrhea
- Loss of libido
- Stiff neck
- Changes to your sleeping routine (too much or too little)
- Weight changes (gaining or losing)
- Reliance on drugs or alcohol to “cope” with the stress
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, staying in this state of stress for prolonged periods of time can contribute to menstrual problems, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, anxiety, depression, and eczema.
Stress and your heart
If you’ve ever had to give a big presentation at work, prepare for an interview, or rush to meet a deadline, you’re probably familiar with the headaches and muscle tension of stress. But how exactly does all of that connect to your heart health?
Stress increases the risk that you participate in activities that increase the risk of heart disease. For example, some people who feel overwhelmed may turn to stress eating or overeating. Others may turn to alcohol or smoking to help themselves relax. Others may feel too exhausted to stay consistent with their exercise routines. All of these activities — stress eating, smoking, drinking alcohol, inactivity — increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
Stress and high blood pressure
When you encounter a stressful situation, whether that’s acute or chronic, your body releases adrenaline. This is your flight-or-fight hormone, and it’s intended to help you be powerful through a potentially dangerous situation. As part of your body’s natural response to adrenaline, your blood pressure rises, which is OK in the occasional stressful situation. It becomes a problem, however, when you’re constantly stressed. High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart attacks, heart failure, and angina.
Techniques for reducing stress
Learning to manage stress isn’t just good for your heart; it’s good for your entire mental and physical well-being! Luckily, there are many ways to reduce stress, including:
- Exercise regularly (even if you don’t feel like it, exercise can help boost your mood and help you mentally work through problems)
- Practicing deep breathing
- Prioritizing plenty of quality sleep each night
- Practicing time management to reduce stress over work schedules, etc.
- Avoiding overscheduling your calendar
- Saying no when you to do take a break
- Practicing self-care daily
Unfortunately, stress isn’t the only cause of high blood pressure. Your diet, lifestyle, and genetics are all risk factors for hypertension. If you’re struggling to regulate your high blood pressure, we can help you learn the lifestyle changes you need to see a difference. If needed, we can also prescribe high blood pressure medication.
To learn more about high blood pressure or how stress affects your heart, visit our East Harlem, New York, practice. Give us a call at 646-381-218, or you can schedule an appointment via our website.