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The Effect of Stress on The Heart

Stress Less

Most of us are aware at this point that stress influences our health. Specifically, stress can negatively impact our heart health. How we cope with stress can make a big difference when it comes to staying healthy and living longer.

 

What Is Stress?

 

Acute Stress

We are made to be able to handle small doses of stress. What we are not meant to handle, and what is so prevalent today, is chronic stress. The small doses of stress, acute stress, are part of our fight or flight response. When you slam on the brakes in your car in order to avoid a collision, your stress response kicks in. Your heart rate increases, adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released.  These hormones cause our blood vessels to dilate so that we can get more blood to these parts of our body so that we can “take action”. This response elevates blood pressure temporarily.

 

Chronic Stress

If our bodies do not return to the normal state after a stress response, this is chronic stress. As you can imagine, it is not good for our health to be in this constant state, especially for heart health. This continuous increase in blood pressure increases the risk for heart attack or stroke. When the fight or flight stress response is always present, overexposure to cortisol and the other stress hormones puts our bodies levels out of balance. The imbalance in hormones increases the risks for anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, weight gain, and digestive issues.

 

The Stress Hormones Effect on the Heart

 

  1. Adrenaline (epinephrine)- Increases the heart rate, raises blood pressure, and increases energy supplies

 

  1. Cortisol- Floods the bloodstream with glucose and narrows the arteries, raises blood pressure.

 

  1. Norepinephrine- Raises the heart rate, releases glucose into the bloodstream, and increases blood flow to the muscles.

 

 

How to cope with stress in a healthy way

Stress is just a part of life, and sometimes we can’t change the events that happen to us or the things that cause us stress. We can take steps to decrease our stress levels and manage stress in a healthy way.

 

Eating a healthy diet

A healthy diet can help reduce the negative effects of stress. New research suggests that the gut microbiome can influence the brain. Foods containing fiber like beans, vegetables, and yogurt can help keep our gut and brain communication healthy. Some foods increase blood flow, including blood flow to the brain which help mitigate stress. Some of the foods that help increase blood flow are salmon, sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, blueberries, and avocados.

 

Exercise

When we exercise our bodies release endorphins. Endorphins are the hormone responsible for making us feel happy and have a sense of overall wellbeing. Not only does exercise release more of the hormone that makes us feel good, it decreases the amount of cortisol, the hormone that is released during stress. Consistent exercise encourages the brain to regularly release endorphins!

 

Sleep

When we do not get enough sleep, or quality sleep, our bodies do not get the restorative benefits that sleep is supposed to provide. Poor sleep can affect memory, judgment, mood and even the way we respond to stress. According to apa.org, Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least eight hour per night. It can be a vicious cycle, not getting enough sleep increases stress, while the effects of stress may be interfering with our sleep. To break the cycle, we may first need to try healthy ways of coping with stress. Practicing mindfulness, writing in a journal, or having a nightly routine may help us reduce stress and get a good night’s rest.

 

While we’ve explored some of the ways stress can negatively impact heart health, it’s important to remember that there are many ways to reduce stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and assess what changes you can make to your daily routine or work life to help ease the pressure. There are plenty of resources out there on how to manage stress, so start by doing some research and finding what works best for you. If you think chronic stress may be impacting your heart health make an appointment with your cardiologist. Visit our website  https://www.samhoustonheart.net/services to book your appointment today. 

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