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Can stress damage your heart?

Tuesday, January 30, 2024 9:32 AM
Tags: heart

By Endeavor Health

Stress can do a number on your health, causing sleep disturbances, digestive issues, even a broken heart.

The mental burden of psychological stress causes a physical reaction. We tense up, feel jittery or get a knot in our stomachs (or, conversely, try soothing our psyche with food).

Short-term stress affects our physical health differently than long-term, or chronic, stress.

When you have one stressful day, the tension may cause physical symptoms like a headache, sore shoulders or short-term indigestion.

Girl lying down with post it notes

When that stress lingers, it can take a toll on your physical health over time. Chronic stress can lead to conditions like migraines, back pain and elevated blood pressure.

“Chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol, which can lead to increased blood pressure and cholesterol,” said Nida Ahmed, MD, a vascular surgeon with Endeavor Health. “This can set the stage for cardiovascular disease, a heart attack or stroke.”

Stress can also lead to lifestyle choices that increase our risk of heart problems. People who are chronically stressed may be more likely to drink too much alcohol, smoke, overeat or get less exercise — all unhealthy habits that are bad for your heart.

Sometimes an intense shock, like the loss of a loved one, can weaken the heart. Studies have shown the risk of a heart attack increases 21-fold within 24 hours after a loss. This condition, stress cardiomyopathy or “broken heart syndrome,” can also occur in reaction to very stressful news, such as a loved one’s cancer diagnosis.

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, it can be further exacerbated by emotional stress. Heart disease patients with anxiety are twice as likely to die within three years of a cardiac event.

The heart and mind coexist. Don’t ignore emotions that can overwhelm your life, like stress, anxiety, depression and anger. Find ways to take care of your emotional well-being and your heart will thank you.

Try these tips for better heart health:

  • Recognize your feelings and express them. Talk to loved ones, write in a journal or join a support group. Seek professional help if you need it.
  • Manage stress with daily mindful meditation, yoga or deep breathing exercises.
  • Avoid heavy drinking and don’t smoke.
  • Exercise. Try a 15-minute brisk walk, swimming, cycling, gardening or dancing.
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects.

Your heart is in good hands when you choose Endeavor Health Cardiovascular Institute. Learn more.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.