Stress is an epidemic that is impacting people worldwide. While it’s normal to feel stressed when you’re late to work or are preparing for an important exam, chronic stress interferes with your day-to-day life. If this sounds like you, you’re far from alone. 74% of people say they feel so stressed to where they’re unable to cope and feel overwhelmed.
What many people don’t know is how stress impacts their physical health, specifically the effects of stress on the heart. How does stress affect the heart? Here’s what to know.
What Is Chronic Stress?
When we talk about stress effects on the heart, we aren’t talking about the normal stress that comes with life, such as the stress you feel when buying a house. We’re talking about something called chronic stress. Chronic stress is constant. Your mind and body are always in high gear. This stress can last for days or even weeks.
The physical effects of stress are damaging to your entire body, but especially your heart.
The Impact of Stress on Your Heart
There’s a lot we don’t know about the effects of stress on the heart. Let’s look at high blood pressure as an example. While the link between stress and high blood pressure is still being studied, stress often comes with unhealthy habits that can lead to conditions such as high blood pressure. This includes alcohol consumption and a poor diet.
While there are still studies being done on stress impacts on cardiac health, there are a few things we already know. One of the most common side effects of stress is an increased heart rate. This makes the heart work harder to produce the blood flow needed for multiple bodily structures.
In serious conditions, chronic stress may cause abnormal heart rhythms, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. All of these can be risk factors for stroke and heart disease.
Can Chronic Stress Cause Poor Health Behaviors?
Mentioning the blood pressure study again, it seems that most of the chronic stress effects on the heart are mainly indirect. That’s because chronic stress can cause and exacerbate a number of poor health choices that can affect the heart. These choices include:
- Overeating and unhealthy diet
- Smoking cigarettes
- Lack of physical activity
- Increased medication use
- Overweight and obesity
Fortunately, living a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising, can reduce stress and improve heart health. We will cover this more in-depth in a later section.
Other Side Effects of Chronic Stress
If your natural stress response is chronic and uncontrollable, it can impact your entire health. One of the most common stress side effects that people experience is pain. Stress adds strain to the individual, which often represents itself physically as pain. That’s why chronic stress may cause effects such as:
- Back pain
- Stomach pains
All of these types of pain can adversely affect your heart health. When you’re in pain, you may eat a poor diet and may be inactive. All of these factors are bad for your health.
Stress also comes with other side effects, such as:
- Bad sleep habits
- Lack of energy
- Behavioral issues, such as forgetfulness, bad mood, and even loss of control
Can these effects also impact your heart? While these effects may seem mild, over time, they can negatively affect your physical well-being. For example, if you don’t have energy, you don’t want to exercise, which can impact your heart health. Insomnia also affects your heart health indirectly for the same reasons.
Can Other Mental Health Conditions Affect Your Heart?
Stress isn’t the only mental health condition out there. Other common ones include:
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
- General pessimism and negativity
There are also multiple anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobia disorder, that also come with the same effects as chronic stress.
All of the mental health conditions mentioned can lead to unhealthy habits that can affect your overall well-being, including your heart health.
Stress and Heart Health: How to Decrease Both
If you suffer from chronic stress, you don’t have to struggle forever. Many of the same healthy habits that can decrease your stress can also improve your heart health.
How to Avoid Stress
The first way to combat stress is by reducing the triggers that often cause a stressful reaction.
While you can’t control all stressors in your life, you can also take a close look at your life and identify the main culprits that you can cut.
For example, if there are certain toxic people in your life who stress you out, simply cutting them out or reducing the time spent with them can improve your mental health. You may have to remove yourself from certain organizations, such as your job, in order to reduce your anxiety.
If your own behaviors are causing chronic stress, work toward reducing them. For example, people who procrastinate often feel they’re under constant pressure. Staying organized and planning ahead can reduce these stressful feelings.
Develop a Healthy Lifestyle
Certain healthy habits can keep your heart healthy. These include exercising, eating a healthy diet, avoiding cigarettes and substances, reducing sugar intake, getting enough sleep, and deep breathing and meditation are all healthy habits that will improve your physical and mental health.
Know When to Get Help
There may be a time when you’ll need to seek professional help for your mental and physical health. For mental health, seeing a therapist regularly will help you understand your stress triggers and what you can do to reduce them. For heart health, naturopathic healing is a branch of medicine that uses natural remedies to improve your physical health.
Know the Effects of Stress on the Heart
Just about everyone is familiar with stress, but not many people know the effects of stress on the heart. If you suspect stress is causing heart problems, we offer a variety of naturopathic services that can support your health in a natural way. Schedule your first appointment today.