Like it or not, stress will affect your physical body. We have all felt the aches in our neck and shoulders, the indigestion, even the stiffness that can come with elevated levels of stress. There is one organ, however, that is often affected much more than any other by stress. It is your heart. Most people, however, don’t realize exactly how stress can directly affect a person’s heart. Here are just a few of the ways.
Long Term Stress Can Trigger Heart Complications
While short term stress is temporary, by definition chronic stress is long term, and therefore can contribute to a number of problems. One of the most notable is that increased levels of stress can trigger an underlying heart condition. When a person is under stress, their heart automatically works harder and pumps more blood through the system, preparing it to either fight or flee from the situation. If the heart muscle has to do this on a regular basis, it will most certainly weaken, leading to a time in the future where it can no longer handle the demands placed on it by the body.
What You Eat Affects Your Heart
While you might have heard that a morning cup of coffee is bad for your blood pressure, in most cases, you can drink a normal size cup without any real problems. What does cause a problem is the amount of sugary, low fiber and high fat content foods consumed on a daily basis, often with the coffee in question. Foods that are low in fiber, highly processed, and loaded with sugar can lead to a build-up in the arteries of fat deposits, which make your heart have to work that much harder just to get the blood flowing. Often, a person’s hypertension can be managed through simple changes in their diet; so it stands to reason that trying to eliminate overly processed foods might be a place to start.
Loss or Suffering Can Add Stress to Your Heart
Nearly everyone has experienced a loss at some time in their lives. Whether it is the loss of a relative, a friend or colleague, the added stress of the emotional turmoil that is felt during the grieving process can place a great amount of stress on a person. This added stress can also lead to an increased heart rate on a regular basis, feelings of depression or anxiety, and poor eating and exercise habits. All these factors can contribute to an unhealthy heart. In addition, if past experience has not been good, as in someone suffering from an abusive relationship, the chronic stress on the heart can be very damaging indeed.
What Can Be Done?
As you can see, there are a lot of factors that can contribute to the health, or sickness of your heart; only a few of them has been listed here. Thankfully, there are ways to cope with these stressors in your life, and most of them are fairly easy to accomplish. The first is to realize that not all stress is bad. Temporary stress, something that challenges you to grow and change both mentally and physically can be a good thing. Things such as being challenged by a complicated math problem, or pushing yourself to do a few more repetitions in your exercise routine is a great way to strengthen both your mind and your heart.
Another great way to reduce the effects of chronic stress on the heart is to find ways to alleviate it on a regular basis. These can include anything from having a weekly Tuesday lunch with friends, or participating in a worship service. Some find going for a bike ride to be therapeutic, while other people find curling up with a great book to be the most relaxing way to reduce stress. Other people will take up a form of meditation, or an exercise such as yoga or tai chi. Whichever method or methods you chose; it is a great idea to do whatever you can to reduce the affect that stress has on you.
Of course, in order to combat stress, it is important to recognize it for what it is. Sometimes, however, that is easier said than done. If you know what to look for, the warning signs of increasing levels of stress, you can certainly make some changes to bring your stress levels under control. For example, did you know that those extra ten to twenty pounds that you are carrying around could be an indicator of your stress level? Often people will temporarily try to relieve their stress by fluctuating between not eating and all, or eating way to much in one sitting. This leads the body to not know where or when their next source of food and energy will be coming from, so it will store energy in the form of fat. If you have a few pounds that you just can’t seem to lose, consider taking an inventory of your life and seeing what level of stress you have.
Besides altering your diet and exercise plans, another factor that can help reduce stress is the amount of sleep you get each night. Many people are affected by stress more intensely because they simple don’t have enough energy to cope with the stressor effectively. Providing your body with at least seven to ten hours a sleep per night is one of the best ways to bring your stress levels to a bearable amount.
Your heart and your body are truly on the front lines in your battle to deal with the many stressors in your life. By understanding how stress can affect your heart and ultimately your health, you can find ways to better combat the effects. From getting regular exercise, to eating a regular and healthy diet, and spending quality time with friends and family, you can make sure that your heart, body and mind remains healthy for a very long time.