Did you know that April is Stress Awareness Month? Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), a nonprofit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month is a national, cooperative effort to inform people about the dangers of stress, promote successful coping strategies, and dispel harmful misconceptions and misperceptions about stress.
High-Stress Levels Can Be Hard on Your Heart
We’ve all felt our hearts race when an unexpected (and unexpectedly ugly) bill rears its nasty head or when the kids refuse to submit those online assignments on time. But did you know that high levels of stress drive up your risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems including high cholesterol, blood clots, and even cardiac arrest?
Stress doesn't just affect your sense of wellbeing and calm, stress can even affect you on a cellular level! Long-term stress and stress disorders can lead to a wide range of illnesses—from headaches to stomach issues to depression—and yes, even strokes and heart disease. Understanding the mind/stress/health connection can help you better manage stress and improve your health and well-being.
The American Heart Association notes that “More research is needed to determine how stress contributes to heart disease — the leading killer of Americans. But stress may affect behaviors and factors that increase heart disease risk: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating.”
What is Stress?
Basically, it’s the fight or flight response that’s hardwired into our nervous system. It’s the response that keeps us safe and gets us moving quickly when there’s an immediate threat — like running from a charging dog, fire, or oncoming object.
“When you perceive a threat, stress hormones rush into your bloodstream—increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Other hormones also suppress functions like digestion and the immune system, which is one of the reasons why chronic stress can leave you more vulnerable to illness” (Federal Occupational Health).
Although danger is a common stress trigger, toxic work environments, uncertain finances, traumatic experiences, family stress, or anxiety can also lead to chronic stress. A bad day at the office or a one-off disagreement with a loved one won't damage your health in the long run, but chronic stress can dampen your immune response and put you at an increased risk for cardiovascular and other diseases.
What Can You Do To Manage Your Stress Levels?
Here are a few great ways to manage stress safely and effectively (they all just happen to be heart-healthy choices, too!):
- Do yoga with a friend
- Drink a cup of herbal tea
- Call a friend
- Go for a walk
- Snuggle with a pet
- Eat a piece of fruit
- Play an instrument
If your stress is pressurized like a firehose, ask for help. Look for a local or online stress management class or find a therapist who specializes in stress disorders. You don’t have to tackle this on your own!
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DISCLAIMER: Information and resources found on the aed.com website and blog are intended to educate, inform, and motivate readers to make their health and wellness decisions after consulting with their healthcare provider. The authors are not healthcare providers. NO information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition.