Stress and Heart Health: Skip the Stress and Save Your Heart

Stress and Heart Health: Skip the Stress and Save Your Heart

We heard it before that stress can kill us — but we should know what exactly happens to our body, especially to our heart, when we are under stress.  Continue reading to learn more how to save our ticker.

“Stress can kill you” — You probably have already heard this from a relative, coworker, or a friend while you are stuck dealing with a problem at school, work or relationship.  You probably read it a hundred of times while scanning your Facebook feeds.

Now assuming that all of us agree to this statement that stress can kill us, the follow up question is how?  How can an upcoming thesis defense, overlapping deadlines, or a failing relationship hurt us to the point of damaging our health?  

Research, published in the Lancet, claims to show how stress could be linked to heart and circulatory disease in humans.

Researchers from Harvard University, suggested stress could be a risk factor like smoking or high blood pressure.

The research is comprised of two studies.  The larger study involving 293 people showed brain scans and suggested that when a person is under stress, the amygdala (the area of the brain that deals with stress) sends a signal to the bone marrow to produce extra white blood cells.

This in turn causes the arteries to become inflamed.  Inflamed arteries are known factors that lead to heart attacks, angina, and strokes.

When a person experiences stress, the amygdala also sends a signal to the hypothalamus, which activates the  rest of the body, preparing it to deal with the stressor (fight) or avoid it (flight).

The first study showed that activity between the amygdala and heart was caused by the increased bone-marrow activity and arterial inflammation.

The second study focused on the inflammation of the arteries and activity in the amygdala. People who are more stressed have higher tendencies to have higher activities in the amygdala area.  

According to the researchers, these processes had been previously shown in experiments using mice, but never before in humans.

British Heart Foundation’s Senior Cardiac Nurse Emily Reeve said: “The link between stress and increased risk of developing heart disease has previously focused on the lifestyle habits people take up when they feel stressed such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and overeating. Exploring the brain’s management of stress and discovering why it increases the risk of heart disease will allow us to develop new ways of managing chronic psychological stress.”

She also said that: “This could lead to ensuring that patients who are at risk are routinely screened and that their stress is managed effectively

Quick Tips for You and Your Heart

Now that we know how stress can hurt our heart, let us discuss how we can take care of it and learn how we can give our heart a break from stress:

  1. Find your alone time or meditate – Sometimes we just need to step back and disconnect ourselves from the usual “daily grind”.  Whether we are talking about a quick 10 minutes or a good 30 minutes of alone-time, both can help you clear your head and organize your thoughts.
  2. Declutter your work area –  You’ll be surprised how a stack of papers, sticky notes, and couple of pens scattered on your desk can be a stressor.  Find time to reorganize your desk and leave things that you only need.
  3. Treat yourself with a cup of green tea – Green tea contains L-Theanine that helps the body (and mind) to calm down.
  4. Chew a gum – Chewing a gum helps you relax and lower your cortisol level.
  5. Snack on something crunchy – Sometimes we just need something to snack on for us to clear our heads.  Snack on something healthy like a bag of trail mix or celery sticks.
  6. Look out of the window – Take a break off from your screen and look outside of your window.  Don’t have a good view? Get out and do a 5-10 minutes walk.
  7. Squeeze a stress ball -There will be times that you want to strangle someone.  Having a stress ball is a good (and a non-violent) way to release some tension.
  8. Plan a vacation – Break your routine and give yourself a well-deserved vacation, whether it is a simple weekend staycation or a week-long out-of-town trip.

In this age of fast-paced information and technology, it is almost impossible not to be stressed.  However let us not forget that at the end of the day, these stressors can be managed and if there is one thing we can control in our life, it is how we react to these challenges.

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