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Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but here’s how your reaction to it affects your heart.

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Everyone encounters stressful situations from time to time. But how often you experience stress and how you react to it may have an impact on your overall health. Unmanaged stress can negatively impact almost every aspect of your life. It can make your body feel achy, wreak havoc on your sleep and affect your productivity. Stress has been linked to depression, insomnia, digestive problems, skin conditions and a weakened immune response. Chronic stress has also been linked to heart disease.

Although more research is needed to determine the exact connection between stress and heart disease, one thing is known for sure. When you’re under stress, you’re more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors that aren’t good for your heart, such as overeating, drinking alcohol, using drugs and smoking. These habits can increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels, major heart disease risk factors.

“Stress can lead to many health conditions including heart issues. The best way to improve stress is to increase exercise even by walking outside on a nice day or taking time out for yourself. Other ways to improve stress is yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises. There are many ways to improve your stress with the internet being a great tool to find out what works best for you.”

-T. Richard Lieux, Jr, MD, FACP, Internal Medicine 

Here’s what is known about the connection between stress and heart health:

  • Chronic stress creates unhealthy levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Constant release of stress hormones can contribute to heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Adrenaline prepares your body for a “fight or flight” response – so it temporarily increases your heart rate and blood pressure. When your body constantly experiences stress, this hormone continually keeps your heart rate and blood pressure elevated.
  • Cortisol appears to play a role in the accumulation of belly fat, which creates a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • High levels of stress tend to encourage harmful behaviors such as overeating, drinking too much alcohol, using drugs and smoking, putting your heart at risk.
  • Some research links stress to changes in the way blood clots and damage to your arteries, which may increase the risk of a heart attack.

The bottom line?

Stress isn’t healthy. If you’re stressed out, chances are your heart is, too.

Finding ways to effectively manage stress can help your heart and improve your overall physical and emotional health. The key to managing stress is identifying the causes of your stress and then coming up with ways to cope with or avoid them.

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Date Last Reviewed: November 7, 2019

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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