Everyone experiences stress, because it comes in many forms. For some, it’s a response to putting in long days at the office or getting stuck in traffic. For others, it may be a lack of sleep or worries about money or illness. You can even experience stress from things you enjoy, like watching a big sporting event.
Stress is a very natural response that causes your body to release chemicals that prepare you for action — a phenomenon known as the “fight-or-flight” response. While having this hard-wired system in place can definitely protect you in dangerous situations, it can also be counterproductive in others, like when you’re stuck in traffic. Our team at Peak Heart & Vascular treats the full spectrum of cardiovascular disease at five Arizona locations. Here’s why you shouldn’t underestimate the role stress plays in heart disease, and how you can protect yourself.
Your heart and stress
If you think you have to be under high levels of stress for it to cause issues, we’ve got news for you: Even minor stress can cause heart problems.
Stress impacts your health in two major ways. First, it causes physical problems that can put your heart at risk. But it can have more indirect links as well, like poor sleep quality and unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Stress can lead to several physiological changes, such as:
- Increased inflammation in your body
- More plaque buildup in the arteries
- Poor blood flow to the heart
- Changes in how blood clots
These changes can increase your chances of heart disease and stroke.
It’s hard to make healthy choices when stressed, leading to coping behaviors that also impact your heart. For example:
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Making poor food choices
- Avoiding exercise
- Sleeping too much or too little
Stress can also cause feelings of anxiety and depression, which can increase your risk of dying from heart disease.
Managing stress to protect your heart
Now for the good news: You can keep your heart healthy! We may not always be able to control the stress in our lives. However, there are ways to counteract its harmful effects and keep your heart as healthy as possible.
First, if you don’t exercise, it’s time to start. Getting enough physical activity not only improves your cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol, and controlling weight, but it also lowers stress and reduces your risk of depression. For best results, shoot for 30-40 minutes of exercise, 4-5 days a week.
There are several different approaches to stress management, from deep breathing, meditation, and yoga to simply unplugging and escaping the world for 10-15 minutes each day. Spending a few minutes somewhere quiet where you can close your eyes and focus your breathing can reduce several heart disease risks, including high blood pressure.
Ask for help
Talk to your provider about your stress levels, especially if you have other health concerns, like obesity, high blood pressure, depression, or anxiety. Having the support of a medical provider can ensure you gain the tools you need to manage your stress, improve your health, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Your stress and heart health are intimately intertwined — don’t wait to take care of them. Get superior cardiovascular care at Peak Heart & Vascular by calling our office most convenient to you — in Surprise, Avondale, Flagstaff, or Phoenix — or connect online to submit an appointment request for an in-office or virtual visit.