How Does Stress Really Impact Heart Health?

Stress isn't just in your mind; it can affect your heart. Chronic stress increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and more. Your body's response to stress includes releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which can have lasting impacts. Two main types of stress, acute and chronic, both influence your cardiovascular health. Chronic stress, often from major life changes or health concerns, can lead to inflammation in your arteries, raising the risk of heart disease and other conditions. Learning to manage stress is vital. Exercise, a balanced diet, talking to a professional, and setting work-life boundaries can help protect your heart.
stress heart health

Stress is a normal part of the human experience. However, too much stress can have negative impacts on our cardiovascular health. According to the American Heart Association, chronic stress increases your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and other cardiovascular issues. In this article, we will explore the impacts of stress on heart health and how to manage stress!

What Happens in the Body When We Experience Stress?

The human body is designed to handle stress in small amounts. When you feel stressed, the adrenal glands, which are located on your kidneys, release two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is essential for several body systems, including the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Cortisol acts as an alarm system for your brain to halt non-essential functions during a fight-or-flight response. Typically, cortisol levels return to normal once the wave of stress has passed, but prolonged stressors keep cortisol levels high, which puts you at risk for many issues, including heart disease.

Types of Stress

Though there are many sources of stress, there are generally two types of stress: acute and chronic stress. Acute stress is the body’s natural response to something scary, surprising, or daunting. For example, if your friend gives you a jump scare or you have a presentation at work, these events may trigger acute stress. The response is typically short-lived and symptoms go away once the triggering event is over. Acute stress can have a lasting effect on your physical health in some situations. For example, if you experience a life-threatening event or severe trauma, your body will not quickly recover. Additionally, experiencing acute stress frequently can have the same effect on the body as chronic stress.

Alternatively, chronic stress is long-lasting and is typically due to significant life changes, financial concerns, or health concerns. About 34% of Americans say that their stress is completely overwhelming. Those with chronic stress may experience symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, depression, short temper, and unhealthy habits. But how exactly does chronic stress impact the cardiovascular system?

Impact of Stress on Heart Health

Numerous studies have been conducted to reveal that there is an association between mental health and one’s risk for heart disease. When experiencing chronic stress, one’s arteries can become inflamed due to the frequent flood of stress chemicals. This inflammation can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and even heart attack. The stress you experience is not the only thing that matters. How you handle stress through coping mechanisms can also affect your heart health. Unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse, unhealthy eating, and isolating can compound stress’s negative effect on heart health.

Heart Rate

Your heart rate is intricately linked to your stress levels as well. Adrenaline, one of the chemicals released when you experience stress, causes your heart rate to increase. Prolonged elevated heart rate, called tachycardia, left untreated, can cause heart failure, stroke, and death.

Heart palpitations are also a common symptom of chronic stress. This can feel like your heart is fluttering, pounding, or skipping a beat. Occasional heart palpitations are nothing to be concerned about, but frequent palpitations should be checked by a doctor. 

How to Manage Stress for a Healthy Heart

Managing your stress correctly is the number one way to protect your heart health from stress-related disease and injury. Here are some healthy habits and coping mechanisms to combat stress:

  • Get Regular Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins in the body, which help to regulate mood. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week for optimal heart health. 
  • Eat a Balanced Diet. Eating a balanced diet can not only help you maintain a healthy weight but can reduce your stress. Nutrient-dense foods help your body regulate and reduce inflammation.
  • Talk to a Professional. Sometimes talking through your stressors can help you work through them. 
  • Manage Work-Related Stress. Work can be a major source of stress. Set realistic work-life balance parameters and avoid taking on more than you can handle during work hours.

Stress is not the only factor contributing to your heart health. If you are worried about your heart, contact a medical professional today to seek guidance!

How Can We Help?

Work Health Solutions offers comprehensive healthcare solutions for your medical needs. Our qualified team treats patients and employers alike and always provides top-quality service. We back our quality service with years of experience working with academic and research institutions, corporate healthcare, Fortune 25 companies, small governments, and local businesses. Reach out today with any questions about how we can assist you!

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Dr. Michael Tenison

A series of notable accomplishments distinguish Dr. Michael Tenison’s career in medical operations and healthcare management:

  • Successfully led medical operations at a national healthcare provider, focusing on optimizing healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.
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Dr. Matt Feeley

Dr. Matt Feeley is a renowned figure in military aviation medicine, with a robust background in occupational and environmental medicine from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

  • Former Naval Flight Surgeon, exemplifying his expertise in aerospace medicine and commitment to military health.
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Dr. Glen Cheng

A physician-attorney with a dedication to healthcare innovation, informatics, and digital health.

  • Currently spearheads employee health protection and promotion within the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System.
  • Trained in residency at Harvard, achieving board certification as a physician; also a licensed patent attorney with experience as FDA regulatory counsel.
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Erin Davis

 Chief Clinical Officer at Work Health Solutions, certified in Adult-Gerontology (AGNP-C) and Athletic Training (ATC).

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  • Former Manager of Clinic Operations and Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner at Stanford University Occupational Health Center (SUOHC).
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Dr. Robert Goldsmith

Expert in benefits design and onsite innovation with specialization in the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Previous role as Executive Director for Employee Health at Novartis Services, Inc., leading health services and clinical support.
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