The Truth About Emotional Stress and Your Heart

Good news first: “Stress is not a direct cause of heart attack or the buildup of plaque inside your blood vessels,” says cardiologist Stephano Sdringola, M.D., principal investigator for the heart disease research project known as the Century Health Study. However, stress can lead to high blood pressure, which can indeed hurt you. And unchecked stress can also play a big role in heart disease by leading to unhealthy choices. “You may smoke, eat poorly, not exercise and gain weight to cope.” After all, who hasn’t engaged in some stress-eating? And when we do, chances are we’re not grabbing a bag of baby carrots.

What’s more, stress also sets off the release of the hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol. Imagine what you feel like when you almost get into a car crash. When you have a close call, you can’t breathe, you can’t focus, because these stress hormones are circulating in your body. When you’re stressed all the time, those hormones remain chronically high, which may keep blood pressure elevated. Granted, it’s the rare occasion where you can simply make the stressful situation stop. What you can do, however, is change the way you react to it. See below for a few good-for-you stressbusters:

  • Take regular breaks. When you start to feel tired, instead of having coffee, go for a walk. The opportunity to be active will trigger the release of endorphins and help your body and mind relax.
  • Schedule quiet and relaxation time—put it in your calendar. Meditation, prayer or simply reading can help you cope, according to the American Heart Association. Try yoga or relaxation breathing classes at a gym or studio near you. If you can’t afford classes, consider less expensive online programs, such as Yogaglo.com or a free 20-minute class from YogaJournal.com
  • Seek help. Need some more help on changing your ways? Check out stress-reduction programs, books and CDs created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Deepak Chopra, M.D., or Alice Domar, Ph.D.

More Articles You May Find Interesting

New Strategies for Slashing Salt

By Tracy Olgeaty Gensler, M.S., R.D. You can do everything right with your diet—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy sources of fat and protein, low fat dairy—and still be doing something very wrong. That something is sodium....

Why Working Too Much Really is Bad for Your Heart

By Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger, R.D. If you’ve been burning the midnight oil at work, you might want to forward this blog to your boss. New and emerging research published recently in the European Heart Journal found...

Your Questions About Weight Loss and Blood Pressure—Answered

By Willow Jarosh, R.D., and Stephanie Clarke, R.D. Q: My doctor suggested I try to lose at least 30 pounds with diet/exercise before trying medication for my high blood pressure. That seems like an overwhelming task—where...