We are constantly bombarded with all kinds of stress in our daily life including work, interpersonal conflicts, financial hardships, and so much more.
Of late, another type of stress is silently cropping up in urban lives due to extreme physical fitness routines.
While many people think of stress as a temporary emotional or mental issue, it can also be physical, and have serious consequences, especially for your heart's health.
Hypertension and the Negative Impacts on Heart Health
There is a lot of evidence linking stress to heart problems. Hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are secreted when a person is under stress, speed up the body's response to danger by raising both heart rate and blood pressure.
While short and infrequent spikes of this response are harmless, and even helpful, chronic persistence of stress can negatively impact the cardiovascular system.
Hypertension or high blood pressure, is one of the major ways in which stress negatively affects heart health.
When exposed to persistent stress, blood vessels contract and lose their pliability, limiting blood flow.
The heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body in response to this increased resistance.
Hypertension, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, can develop over time because of this.
Extreme stress can have a negative impact on the vessels supplying blood to the heart itself.
One of the most common heart diseases involves the build-up of plaque and blockage of these vessels which gradually restrict the blood supply to the heart muscle, causing angina or chest pain on exertion when this blockage becomes severe.
However, sometimes these blockages develop cracks exposing blood to harmful substances like bad fat material inside them. This causes clot formation on top of the plaque-causing acute heart attack and sudden death.
Increasingly, medical literature reports that undue and repetitive extreme physical or mental stress can cause cracks to develop in these blockages and precipitate heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest.
Daily Schedule and Stress
The onset of bad routines that are detrimental to cardiovascular health is another way in which stress plays a role.
When under stress, many people resort to unhealthy habits like smoking, binge drinking, or overeating which increases the risk of gaining weight, developing high cholesterol, and heart disease.
A lack of sleep caused by stress has also been linked to an increase in the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Dealing with the Stress
The detrimental effects of stress on cardiovascular health highlight the urgency of creating efficient methods of dealing with stress.
Mind over matter
The first step in managing stress effectively is to pinpoint where it's coming from.
Spend some time thinking about what might be causing your stress, and how you might be able to prevent or lessen it.
To counteract the body's natural reaction to stress, relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation are particularly helpful.
Keep it moving
Regular exercise is an effective stress reliever and reduces depression.
Its salutary benefits on cardiovascular health, bone, metabolic health, and frailty also help in reducing the overall risk of cardiovascular disease and sudden death.
It also elevates your mood because of the release of endorphins. Finding a form of physical activity that you enjoy—be it a brisk walk, a fitness class, or a sport—can help alleviate stress and boost cardiovascular health.
Do's and Don'ts of Exercising
Intense exercise, especially in individuals whose body is not acclimatised to such vigorous exertion, may be harmful and could, in fact, precipitate cardiac events.
Such situations may arise when individuals at risk of heart disease scale up exercise levels ‘too much, too fast’. Hence such practices should be avoided and overall, it is safer to indulge in exercises at moderate levels.
Another important aspect of physical activity is being active in your daily routine activities including walking, taking stairs, or getting up regularly from your working desk for a quick stroll.
Putting your needs first is essential for successful stress management. Also under extreme pressure, it can help to reach out for help from people you trust, whether they are friends, family, or professionals.
Additional aid in dealing with stress can be found in the form of support groups or professional counseling.
(Dr Abhishek Gupta is an Assistant Professor Department of Adult Cardiology, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad. Dr Prof Vivek Chaturvedi is the HoD, Department of Adult Cardiology, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad.)