Blog Post

How Stress Affects Your Heart Health

From current events to juggling daily life, it’s a wonder we’re not all living under chronic stress. Though some can escape the world's woes unscathed, the rest are left with such high stress levels that they take a massive toll on their bodies. 

Dr. Fahmi Farah and our team at Bentley Heart in Fort Worth, Texas, know that stress is an all-too-real problem, and we’ve also seen what it can do to a perfectly healthy heart. 

What exactly is stress?

Stress is your body’s response to physical or physiological triggers perceived as challenging or threatening. Simply put, stress is anything your body has to adapt to. 

Stress often gets a bad rap but it has a few essential purposes. For example, you might experience “good” stress when presented with a problem at work. At first, the new task seems daunting, but your body’s stress response helps you respond to the challenge, and you get the chance to learn a new skill and get recognition for a job well done. 

You can also experience acute stress, which is the type of stress you experience when you:

  • Have to speak in public
  • Go in for a job interview
  • Visit the doctor
  • Have swerve to avoid hitting another car

Acute stress allows you to respond to a situation quickly and then return to normal. 

Then there’s chronic stress — the type of stress we’re the most concerned about. Chronic stress happens when you’re faced with something that doesn't have a clear end, causing you to remain in fight-or-flight mode.

When you have chronic stress, you never get to relax, and your body and mind pay the price. 

How does chronic stress affect my body?

The primary components of your body’s stress response are cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. 

Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone because one of its primary functions is to increase your energy levels so you can better respond to a perceived threat. 

During a stressful event, the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine:

  • Increase your heart rate and blood pressure
  • Speed up your breathing rate
  • Increase blood flow to your muscles
  • Decrease digestion
  • Boost your energy supplies

If this is the norm for your body, the results can be devastating, especially for your heart. 

How does chronic stress affect my heart?

A recent study found that high levels of stress are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, and even death. 

Most explain the heart-stress connection with increased activity in an area of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is involved in processing feelings like stress and fear and also initiates the stress response. 

Researchers found that higher activity levels in the amygdala were linked to increased white blood cell production in bone marrow, which in turn ramped up inflammation in the arteries. 

Chronic stress also makes you more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system. 

When you’re stressed, you’re also more likely to make poor choices, such as reducing your physical activity, overeating, increasing alcohol consumption, and smoking cigarettes. 

What do I do now?

If you’re chronically stressed and worried about its impact on your health, you’ve already made a crucial first step: You’re looking for information and help. 

Heart health can be complicated, so we walk alongside you as you make necessary changes to reduce stress and its impact on your well-being. 

We start by discussing your health history and conducting a series of tests to understand the extent of your cardiovascular issues. If you see us as soon as possible, we can catch heart issues in their earliest stages and help you be proactive.

Depending on your needs and your lifestyle, we recommend one or more of the following:

  • Regular exercise
  • Establishing healthy sleeping habits
  • Eating a balanced, heart-healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Limiting or eliminating alcohol

If stress is a key factor in current or potential heart problems, we’d also like to know what you are doing or plan to do about stress management. 

Finding a hobby, connecting with loved ones, or practicing mindfulness may be helpful for managing stress, or you may need to seek help from a mental health specialist.  

If you’d like to talk with Dr. Farah about more ways to improve your heart health, don’t hesitate to call our friendly staff at 817-720-5185 or use our online booking tool to schedule an appointment.