Most people are familiar with the well-known risk factors for heart disease, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, alcohol or drug abuse, smoking, and obesity. However, researchers have discovered that frequently being exposed to high levels of stress, can pose the same risk of cardiovascular disease as it would in a smoker.
How stress affects our cardiovascular health
A study finds strong evidence that supports the prevailing thought about the correlation between chronic stressors and heart disease. Stress has a detrimental effect on our cardiovascular system, as different types of stress cause damage to different parts of the system.
Chronic depression and anxiety can lead to coronary artery disease. A study shows how being exposed to high levels of stress for a longer period of time can cause our blood to be tricked into behaving as it would prior to an injury, which triggers hyper-coagulation that can lead to a severe condition – coronary artery disease.
Moreover, unexpected stress triggers cause the heart rate to increase which leads to the shrinking of arteries and ultimately, decreases the blood flow to the heart.
With patients suffering from heart rhythm disorders, stress can cause serious cases of arrhythmia as it affects heart rhythm.
Another study explains how stress affects hypertension, or increased blood pressure. A number of stress factors such as white coat hypertension, job strain, race, social environment, and emotional distress, when experienced over a longer period of time, cause elevations in blood pressure which, when repeated, lead to hypertension.
Stress cardiomyopathy, or a “broken heart syndrome”, is a heart condition where heart muscles are weakened by high levels of emotional stress caused by extreme grief, anger, or surprise. The condition can also be caused by extreme physical stress due to seizure, stroke, or significant bleeding.
First aid in stressful situations
- Deep breaths calm and soothe us down: Each time you find yourself in a stressful situation and experience some of the early symptoms, try taking deep breaths through your nose. This will regulate your heart rate and calm you.
- Relax your shoulders: Together, with taking deep breaths, focus all of your attention to your shoulders and relax them. All stress and tension tend to accumulate in our shoulders, therefore, help your body relieve its stress and tension by focusing on the area it feels it most.
- Count to ten before speaking: If the situation that causes you stress requires you to speak, don’t let the stress control your reaction. Calm down and count to ten to recover your focus.
- Positive self-talk: In most cases, it is the little voice inside our head that controls most of our thoughts, emotions, and reactions. Negative self-talk increases our levels of stress. Practice changing it into positive thoughts. Instead of telling yourself, “You are never going to do it,” try changing it into something like, “You can do it. You are worthy.”
Long-term stress relievers
- Meditation gives you tools to calm down and be mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions.
- Developing and practicing a relaxing hobby will make you enjoy your life much more and accumulate positive energy to help you cope with stress.
- Walk in nature at least half an hour each day. Colors and sounds in nature will have calming effect.
- Keep a lavender scent or wear lavender perfume to create an additional soothing effect.