If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s stress. Whether it’s because of a deadline at work, getting the kids off to school, travel plans, houseguests or an overwhelming to-do list, everyone experiences stress.
Just ask Amy Heinl, a busy executive and mother of three who spent every minute on the move until chest pains and shortness of breath sent her to the ER, where doctors discovered a tear in her artery that required emergency surgery. “I was always on the go with work,” Amy admits. “My kids and I think I had to go through this struggle to wake up and realize that things in my life needed to change.”
Does stress cause heart disease?
While blood pressure may increase temporarily when you’re faced with a high-stress situation, stress is not known to cause chronic high blood pressure. Nor has stress been proven to cause heart disease.
Nevertheless, stress definitely affects our bodies. When we’re stressed, the body reacts by releasing adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. Your heart beats faster, and inside, blood vessels are constricting to push more blood to your body’s core, away from your head and limbs. All of this raises blood pressure, which returns to its pre-stress level once the event is over. This is called situational stress, and its effects are generally short-lived.
Most stress for women, however, isn’t situational. Because of demanding jobs, long hours, technological distractions and little sleep, the stress we feel is commonly chronic stress, which keeps our bodies in high gear for days or weeks at a time.
While the links between chronic stress and blood pressure are not entirely clear, scientists continue to study how stress relates to our health. We know that stress can affect us in a variety of ways, and the ways in which we choose to cope with stress – like overeating or eating sugary or fatty foods, smoking cigarettes, drinking and other unhealthy activities – can definitely raise our risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. In short, the presence of stress in your life plays a big role in your overall wellness.
What can I do to reduce stress?
There are many activities you can partake in as a means of reducing stress or anxiety. Here are a few suggestions.
- Shorten your to-do list. This means being realistic about what you can get done.
- Learn to say, “No.” Women tend to promise too much. Learn to respect your limitations.
- Learn what you can and can’t control. Accept the things you can’t change.
- Be proactive. Don’t let stressors fester. If you notice a problem, talk about it and problem solve.
- Know your stress triggers. Think ahead and ask yourself, “What may upset me? How can I avoid it?”
- Relaxing is important. Everyone can afford 15 to 20 minutes each day to sit quietly, breathe deeply and relax.
- Practice gratitude. Expressing gratitude can boost your feel-good levels and reduce stressful thoughts.
- Live heart healthy. Engage in physical activity, limit alcohol intake and don’t smoke.