The Impact of Stress on Heart Health
The American Institute of Stress lists 50 signs and symptoms of stress. Among the signs are insomnia, frequent headaches, increased anger, and frustration. Honestly just reading the comprehensive list stressed me out, proving that we face way too many stresses in an average day.
The most common sources of stress, according to a 2019 American Psychological Association survey, are money, health-related concerns, work, and family responsibilities. What’s clear from the survey is that these stresses cross all age demographics and they are having an impact on our overall health.
Is stress a contributor to heart disease?
When we face a stressful situation, our bodies release adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes breathing and heart rate to speed up and blood pressure to rise. Constant stress puts too much strain on the body and specifically the heart, which can lead to heart disease.
In fact, stress and heart disease have a strong history of pairing up to make us sick. In the US, heart disease is a leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Stress plays a role in behaviors and factors that can increase risk of heart disease. For many of us, stress leads to smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating, and being physically inactive. When these behaviors get out of control, the end result could lead to some form of heart disease.
Incorporate meditation and mindfulness into your daily life to reduce stress
More evidence of the relationship between stress and heart disease comes from Harvard Medical School. In extreme cases, severe stress, such as the death of a loved one, can cause an immediate heart attack. Everyday stress factors also take a toll on us. Stress triggers inflammation, a known instigator of heart disease, and too much stress influences heart disease in more subtle ways. It can cause us to seek out unhealthy coping behaviors.
Instead of overeating, drinking, or smoking, you and your employees can change the response to stress with more healthy choices.
- Try meditation and deep breathing, which can reduce heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure. Meditation can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Just sit somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing.
- Change internal conversations. You can be your own ally by avoiding negative self-talk and focusing on things you have control over.
- Pay attention to your body’s signals by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and taking a few minutes to yourself when your body tells you that you need it.
- If available on your Fitbit device, use the Relax function, which takes you through a 2-minute or 5-minute guided breathing session.
How exercise can help you manage stress and improve your heart health
Exercise is a proven way to reduce stress, and it’s good for your head and your heart. As you start a new exercise routine, you may find it slightly stressful at first, but the long-term benefits are undeniable. The early anxiety will pass and you’ll start getting the good feels from lowering the levels of your body’s stress hormone (adrenaline and cortisol) and the higher production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. The post-exercise runner’s high is a real and powerful experience!
Another high point of exercise is the chance it gives you to get away from your daily routine. It can break up—or be a welcome end to—the workday. You can make it your time to enjoy some solitude or an opportunity to meet new people with similar interests.
Exercise is self-care. No matter what type of exercise you choose, it will help you manage stress and will be beneficial to your overall heart health. Once you get on a regular exercise routine, you’ll notice the stress and pressure melt away. What you may not notice is how it is protecting against heart disease by lowering your blood pressure, strengthening your heart muscle, and helping you maintain a healthy weight.
More heart-healthy information is available in these three tip sheets from Fitbit Health Solutions that focus on heart health awareness. Download them now for advice and tips for better wellness.