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Stress and Heart Health: What You Need to Know

Did you know that one in four deaths in America is due to heart disease, making it the leading cause of death in the US? Your heart health can be negatively impacted for a variety of reasons, from genetics to smoking to diet.

At Tim Martin M.D., our providers help patients in Abilene, Texas, live healthier lives with our comprehensive cardiovascular health services. Although medications can be useful in preventing and treating heart disease, one important preventive medicine strategy is reducing or managing stress.

Read on to learn what you need to know about the link between stress and heart health.

What is the link between stress and heart health?

Your body is designed to respond to stress with the “flight-or-fight response.” This response floods your bloodstream with stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, whenever you face a stressful situation.

When these hormones surge in your system, your heart rate increases, and your blood vessels constrict. Although the flight-or-fight response is helpful in life-threatening situations, most stressors today don’t involve life-or-death scenarios.

Most of us find ourselves stressed because of pressures from work, family, and the environment. What’s more? Modern stressors typically don’t leave, leading to a condition known as chronic stress.

Chronic stress in modern life still causes us to have the same biological stress response. Over time, the repeated release of the stress hormones in your body wreaks havoc on your body as you stay in the flight-or-fight state.

Does changing my stress response help my heart?

The ways you cope with stress can have a big impact on your blood pressure and heart health. From genetics to learned behaviors to life experiences, many factors influence how you respond to stress.

Unfortunately, many of us cope with stress by engaging in negative behaviors, such as smoking, overeating, drinking alcohol, or insomnia. Because these behaviors all increase your risk of developing hypertension and heart disease, it’s important to learn how to cope with stress in ways that promote health.

Healthy coping mechanisms, like engaging in physical fitness or doing deep breathing exercises, lower your blood pressure. This is especially important if you’ve already been diagnosed with hypertension.

How can I manage stress to improve heart health?

Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Though working to minimize stress in your life is a good goal, it’s also important to learn how to respond to stress with healthy strategies that lower your blood pressure instead of raising it.

Here are some heart-healthy ways to cope with stress:

  • Try relaxation techniques, like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing, when faced with stress
  • Give yourself more time to get through your daily tasks
  • Practice saying “no” and prioritize when you say “yes” to taking on additional tasks
  • Start a gratitude and happiness practice 
  • Share or vent about the things that stress you out with supportive friends, co-workers, or family members
  • Engage in self-care by taking a walk, grabbing a much-needed nap, or taking a break by doing something your enjoy
  • Practice good sleep hygiene 
  • Stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet 
  • Engage in regular exercise 
  • Get professional help – you don’t have to face stress and heart health alone; professionals like Dr. Martin can help

If you want to learn more about the link between stress and heart health or if you’d like help managing your heart condition, contact our Abilene office, or request an appointment online now!

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