man stressed at work

How Does Everyday Stress Impact Your Heart?

The effects of stress can have a direct impact on the body that manifests in ways much more severe than a set of chewed fingernails. Everyday stress – like sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, cramming for a final exam, or building up a never ending to-do list — can affect your body in different ways. Some people may develop headaches, stomachaches, backaches, or ulcers. Meanwhile others can even have flare-ups of IBS or asthma symptoms. The overall effects of stress can yield short-term and long-term health problems, depending on how much and how long a period of time a person is stressed.

Stress can also contribute to factors that increase your risk of heart disease, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes your heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure can cause damage to artery walls, creating blood clots and increasing your risk of heart attack.

Some people manage their stress with harmful habits that can lead to poor heart health. Smoking cigarettes can lead to coronary heart disease (plaque built up in coronary arteries), arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), and heart failure, among other damaging conditions. Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Binge eating and/or an unhealthy diet increases your risk of obesity and high cholesterol.

By managing the pressure of everyday life in a healthy way, you can help eliminate these heart health risks. The American Heart Association recommends four ways to safely deal with stress:

  1. Positive Self-Talk. Try turning your negative thoughts and feelings into positive ones. For example, instead of thinking or saying, “I can’t do this,” try “I’ll do the best I can.” By being positive about stressful situations, you can calm yourself down and control stress.
  2. Emergency Stress Stoppers. These quick tips help you deal with stress on the spot. Examples of emergency stress stoppers include:
  • Counting to 10 before speaking
  • Taking three to five deep breaths
  • Walking away from stressful situations
  • Breaking down big problems into smaller, more manageable problems
  1. Finding Pleasure. If stress is making you feel bad, do something that makes you feel good. Enjoying your favorite activity or trying something new for as little as 15 minutes a day can greatly lower your stress levels.
  2. Daily Relaxation. Relaxation should calm the tension in your mind and body. Some examples of good relaxation techniques include yoga, tai chi, meditation, and deep breathing.

Have you dealt with stress on a regular basis? Contact UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute for help.