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Constant stress can affect heart health
Stress can sometimes be useful: it increases attention, increases our performance and motivation - without harming the body. But constant stress can affect general wellbeing and even heart health.
If stress is short-lived, it can help you keep an important appointment, apply for a new job, or achieve another goal. Stress and its effects on the body can even be life-saving given the dangers, writes the American Heart Association in a recent statement. However, permanent stress, such as from work problems, financial difficulties or family disputes, has a negative impact on health.
Stress can cause physical symptoms
Chronic stress can result in "irritability, anxiety, depression, brooding and insomnia, or waking up anxious in the middle of the night," said Dr. Ernesto L. Schiffrin, senior physician at Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.
Persistent stress not only takes an emotional and psychological toll, but can also cause physical symptoms. These can be headaches, upset stomach, tense and aching muscles, insomnia and lack of energy.
Heart disease is another potentially stress-related problem.
Stress can lead to high blood pressure, which can pose a risk of heart attack and stroke. Stress can also contribute to cardiovascular disease risks such as smoking, overeating and lack of exercise.
Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases
"Chronic stress has been shown to be associated with increased cardiovascular events," said Schiffrin. He referred to a study that was published in the specialist magazine "The Lancet" in 2017.
It used images of parts of the brain that were related to anxiety and stress, and in which connections between stress and episodes of cardiovascular diseases were found.
"These results illustrate mechanisms by which emotional stress factors in humans can lead to cardiovascular diseases," said the doctor.
Constant stress can also affect creativity and productivity. For many people, the workplace is a source of stress.
According to a report by the American Heart Association Center for Workplace Health Research & Evaluation, about two in three employees say that work is a major source of stress.
Work stress can be caused by long working hours, physical stress, high demands or uncertainty at work.
Exercise helps reduce stress
Schiffrin explained what can be done to minimize persistent stress. He pointed to setting priorities for what is most important to you. In addition, the aim should be to reconcile family and work.
Take time for friends, family and laughter. Relieve stress and improve mood through physical activity. Regular exercise helps lower blood pressure and combat other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Mindfulness meditation and deep breathing can help deal with stress. Consider practicing yoga that combines exercise, controlled breathing, and relaxation.
Healthy sleep promotes heart health
Sleep and stress are linked. Stress can affect sleep and lack of sleep can in turn lead to more stress. Seven to eight hours of sleep a night is ideal, Schiffrin explained.
"Better sleep hygiene is crucial for stress management and promoting heart health," said the doctor.
Sleep in a cool, dark, and quiet room. Do not exercise just before bed and avoid eating or drinking in the hours before bedtime, especially alcohol and foods that are high in fat or sugar should be avoided.
A positive attitude to life can help reduce stress, says Schiffrin. And also "a certain level of serenity in the face of life's challenges," he said, "can help improve stress perception and lead to a better quality of life and better cardiovascular health."
Medical help should be sought if stress or symptoms of depression persist. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- American Heart Association: Chronic stress can cause heart trouble, (accessed: February 9, 2020), American Heart Association
- Dr Ahmed Tawakol, Amorina Ishai, Richard AP Takx, Amparo L Figueroa, Abdelrahman Ali, Yannick Kaiser, et al .: Relation between resting amygdalar activity and cardiovascular events: a longitudinal and cohort study; in: The Lancet, (published: online: 11.01.2017 and VOLUME 389, ISSUE 10071, P834-845, 25.02.2017), The Lancet
- American Heart Association Center for Workplace Health Research & Evaluation: Resilience in the workplace, (accessed: February 9, 2020), American Heart Association Center for Workplace Health Research & Evaluation