Stress and Heart Health
When you’ve got an unexpected bill, a dead car battery or family trouble on your hands, are you like a cartoon character with steam shooting out of your ears? Or a cool cat who manages your stress?
Everyone feels stress in different ways and reacts to it in different ways. How much stress you experience and how you react to it can lead to a wide variety of health problems — and that’s why it’s critical to know what you can do about it.
“When stress is excessive, it can contribute to everything from high blood pressure, also called hypertension, to asthma to ulcers to irritable bowel syndrome ,” said Ernesto L. Schiffrin, M.D., Ph.D., physician-in-chief at Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital, and professor and vice chair of research for the Department of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal.
Stress and your heart
Stress is not a direct risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but more research is needed to determine how stress contributes to heart disease — the leading killer. But stress may affect behaviours and factors that increase heart disease risk: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating. Some people may choose to drink too much alcohol or smoke cigarettes to “manage” their chronic stress, however, these habits can increase blood pressure and may damage artery walls.
How to manage stress
Changing your lifestyle in a positive way can help you feel better able to cope with some of the demands put on you. A balanced diet and regular physical activity will help you cope with stress.
If you often feel stressed or anxious, it's important to learn how to relax.
Some people find that physical activity, yoga or other relaxation techniques can help. You could make a list of things that help you to relax and schedule one every day.
You may need to identify situations that make you feel stressed at home or at work and try to avoid them if you can.
You could also learn techniques for managing stress. If you think you are stressed or very anxious, talk to your GP who will be able to help you decide on the best way to deal with it.