Apr 27th 2023

Stress affects your Heart Health

When it comes to taking care of your health you must start somewhere. I don’t know about you, but I believe in starting with a part of the body that will help strengthen and support the rest.

To that end, there is no better organ to begin with than the heart. Your heart is one of the hardest-working organs in your body.

The heart pumps blood through more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels and beats over 100,000 times a day! Clearly, your heart could use a little help from time to time.

Be Smart and Love Your Heart

There are several things you can do to help your heart out. Yet, so many fail to invest in one of our most important assets.

According to American Heart Association, Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), in the United States during 2019 accounted for 874,613 deaths.1 Globally, CVD accounted for approximately 19.05 million deaths in the year 2020.

One of the most common complaints I hear from my clients is how expensive it is to be healthy. Unfortunately, what most people fail to understand is how much it costs to be sick.

In fact, between 2015 and 2018, 126.9 million US adults had some form of CVD. This translates to over $378 billion in direct and indirect costs associated with CVD between 2017 and 2018.

The painful reality is that emergency health care and long-term chronic illness costs are the leading cause of debt in the US.

Not only do we have to worry about CVD, but because the heart plays such a vital role in the body, there are many additional heart-related illnesses to watch out for.

For example, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US during 2019. We also have to worry about stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and more.

Now, the purpose of this is not to terrify you. However, it is crucial to understand why you need to prioritize your heart health.

How Does Stress Affect the Heart?

While there are various ways to support and improve your heart health, there is one that will always reign supreme. Stress can run havoc on your health.

When it comes to stress, we all need a little from time to time. But like everything else in life, too much of it can be devastating.

During periods of stress, our heart rate naturally speeds up. The purpose of increasing your heart rate is to boost circulation throughout the body.

This allows the body to get the necessary nutrients to its desired destinations. In addition, stress naturally heightens our senses.

Doing so allows us to identify any possible threat and get away from it if needed.

When enough becomes too much, our bodies start to come undone. Think of it like having the “A team” pull back-to-back shifts.

Eventually, they will begin to miss things and become too tired to get things done. The longer we are exposed to stress, the more teams get pulled in and overworked.

All the while, your poor heart can’t call in backup. Stress has become a daily constant for most if not all of us. While our stressors may have changed from wild animals to looming deadlines.

The unfortunate reality is that, while those deadlines may not seem as life-threatening as a bear, they are something that follows us indefinitely.

Types of Stress and the Effects

Emotional and physical stresses harm the heart and the vascular system. Acute stress happens all at once; chronic stress occurs over a more extended time period.

Stress hormones (catecholamines, including epinephrine, also known as adrenaline) have damaging effects if the heart is exposed to elevated catecholamine levels for a long time.

Stress can cause increased oxygen demand on the body, spasms of the coronary (heart) blood vessels, and electrical instability in the heart's conduction system.

In addition, chronic stress has been shown to increase the heart rate and blood pressure, making the heart work harder to produce the blood flow needed for bodily functions.

Long-term elevations in blood pressure, also seen with essential hypertension (high blood pressure not related to stress), are harmful and can lead to myocardial infarction (heart attack), heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and stroke.2

A stressful situation sets off a chain of events. Your body releases adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise.

These reactions prepare you to deal with the situation — the “fight or flight” response. Chronic stress may lead to high blood pressure, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Your body’s response to stress is supposed to protect you. But, if it's constant, it can harm you. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress.

Studies suggest that high cortisol levels from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure.

These are common risk factors for heart disease. This stress can also cause changes that promote the buildup of plaque deposits in the arteries.

Even minor stress can trigger heart problems like poor blood flow to the heart muscle. This is a condition where the heart doesn't get enough blood or oxygen.

And long-term stress can affect how the blood clots. This makes the blood stickier and increases the risk of stroke.

People respond to stressful situations differently. Some react strongly to a problem. Others are relaxed and unconcerned.

Luckily, you can decrease the effect of stress on your body. Try to identify and eliminate unnecessary mental stressors in your life and focus on the things that are actionable and in your control as opposed to things you cannot affect.

Make sure to also take care of key physical aspects that can help balance and soothe your biochemistry. Things like exercise, diet, supplementation, sleep, and relaxation.