The dog eating your couch. An insane work deadline. If you’re like most people you don’t thrive under stress. Stomach aches, headaches and panic attacks are proof stress can affect one’s health. But, can stress hurt your heart?
It’s unknown if stress alone can increase your risk for heart disease. But, it can influence behaviors that contribute to heart disease. For example, you may smoke or drink alcohol, skip workouts or overeat. Keep in mind, women who have a waist circumference greater than 35 inches have an increased risk for heart disease. Plus, excess weight influences diabetes — yet another risk factor for heart disease.
The stress hormone
When something stresses you out, your body reacts as if it’s under attack, releasing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause your heart to beat faster, increase your breathing rate, constrict blood vessels and boost glucose levels to deal with the “emergency.”
If stress lasts for a long time, the stress hormones may cause wear and tear on the body. It’s not so much the stress itself that’s problematic, but the nervous system’s overcompensation that taxes the body. Over time, continuous activation of these hormones may negatively affect the heart, making it work harder to pump blood.
Relax and you may improve your health
Life is stressful. If you can fine tune how you tend to deal with stress, your health stands to benefit. Here are some ideas:
- When you’re in a stressful situation, leave and take a walk to get your mind off the problem and improve your mood.
- Exercising for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week is a great way to cope with a stressful life and can help you lose weight, too.
- Meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve overall health.
Ask your health care provider for more tips on how to successfully manage stress. In addition, be sure to discuss risk factors that may increase your likelihood of heart disease since it’s the third leading cause of death of women under age 45.