Frank Salvatore
Health and Lifestyle

The Relationship Between Stress and Heart Health

March 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Excessive stress has a great effect on overall health. The fight or flight reaction is embedded into all of us, even though we are no longer facing archaic predators. The modern day causes of stress are typically not life-threatening, although your body may think they are.

Having chronic stress can impact your health with fat accumulation, a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. Acute stress may even lead to a heart attack.

Stress and Heart Attacks

Research shows that stress causes overactivity in the part of your brain called the amygdala, which controls fear, and in turn increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. Because the amygdala works to biochemically prepare you to fight or flight, over stimulation can put too much pressure on the body.

In a study done on the amygdala, the inflammation levels and brain and bone marrow activity of healthy participants were measured. By the end of the five-year study, 22 out of 293 participants had experienced a cardiac crisis such as a heart attack, stroke or severe chest pain.

After looking at brain scans, researchers found that those who had higher activity in the amygdala had an increased risk of experiencing a cardiac event. This has also been confirmed in further studies.

Overactive Fear Response Can Lead to Heart Attack and Stroke

People with chronic stress have more activity in their amygdala than those who do not experience intense stress. This triggers inflammation, which can lead to heart disease.

However, other studies have shown that stimulation of the amygdala may result in arterial inflammation by triggering the production of immune cells in bone marrow. Amygdala is a crucial part of the brain because if it is healthy, it will protect you from stress, but if it is overworked, it can make stress worse.

Reducing stress will help to decrease any inflammation in the arteries that may lead to heart problems. It could also produce benefits that include an improved sense of psychological health.

What Causes Chronic Stress?

As the levels of stress continue to rise with the years, one might wonder what the root cause is. It could be different for everyone, but common factors include heavy workloads, poverty, job insecurity, or financial troubles.

How Else Can Stress Trigger a Heart Attack?

As your stress levels rise, so do your white blood cells, which can help to promote disease. Stress can lead to such health issues as atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, and plaque rupture.

During intense stress, the body releases norepinephrine, which can cause bacteria to disperse from the arteries’ walls. This can result in plaque deposits to break loose, which can trigger a heart attack.

When intense stress is brought on suddenly, and blood pressure is elevated, this could trigger a heart attack or stroke even if there is no pre=existing heart condition. The sudden weakness of the heart may be due to the rapid overflow of adrenaline and other stress hormones.

While most people recover from these heart issues, in some cases, the heart attack is fatal. You are at a higher risk of dying from a heart attack if you have a history of neurological problems or a history of mental health problems. However, while the condition is possibly life-threatening and needs emergency medical attention, it is typically a temporary problem with no permanent damage.

What Are Some Signs of Stress?

So many people do not realize how stressed they are because it has become their normal state of being. You first need to recognize that have significant stress and then address it. Some common signs are:

  • trouble sleeping
  • fatigue
  • binge drinking
  • either no eating or overeating
  • being quick to anger
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • feeling irritable
  • headaches
  • general aches and pains

Taking a Stand Against Your Amygdala

Knowing its role in heart attacks, you now probably want to learn how to reduce the activity in this part of your brain. When your amygdala is triggered, oxygen is not being delivered to your internal organs or your brain, as it is preparing for fighting instead of thinking.

However, in or developed society, critical thinking is what is necessary when you are facing a stressful situation. Using your muscles or fist-fighting is no longer the solution to a conflict, yet due to the stress response, your brain’s activity has diminished so you need to return some oxygen to your brain.

Helpful Breathing Methods to Reduce Stress

There are a lot of breathing techniques you can learn to help you manage your stress. The Emotional Freedom Technique is one of these options, however, you may want to experiment with a few to see what works best for you. You can practice deep breathing, which helps you to accumulate and retain carbon dioxide, which will calm your breathing and reduce anxiety.

Once your brain is restored with oxygen, practice a physical relaxation technique to relax your muscles. One physical relaxation technique involves tightening your muscles in one area for a few seconds before releasing them. Do this for each muscle section in your body. Begin with your toes and move upward.

Visualization techniques are very helpful in reducing stress as well. Think of a relaxing thought or somewhere you would rather be and really paint a clear picture of the space around you. This can help your body relax as if you were in this place.

You can put all three of these techniques together by breathing and relaxing your body, then imagining being in your peaceful and safe place. Spend at least 10 minutes or 20 minutes here to interrupt any stress and to disengage the fight or flight response.

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Frank Salvatore