5 Simple Ways To Combat The Effects Of Stress On The Heart by Dr Michael MacDonald

How does stress affect the heart?

When your body perceives a threat, it increases the production of stress hormones like adrenaline that alter the way multiple systems in your body function i.e. digestion and immune systems. When the threat diminishes the hormone levels return to normal.

Work-related stress can lead to chronic activation of the stress response, that can have a negative impact, particularly on the heart and blood vessels leading to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and death. In addition to the way stress affects the body, it also leads to over-eating, obesity, inactivity, alcohol excess, smoking, and social isolation.

Stress management techniques can definitely play a part in the reduction of a person’s risk for heart disease; however, they cannot be used in isolation. To properly manage someone’s risk of heart disease you need to take a holistic approach and examine all of a person’s risk factors: blood lipids, blood pressure, glucose profile, lifestyle, family history, obesity, stress, co-morbid disease. The reason for this is that risk factors are often inter-related and cannot be managed in isolation. Once a person’s full risk profile has been determined, a comprehensive, risk management plan can be tailor-made for the individual.

Top tips for stress management

Stress in the workplace is often driven by a perceived lack of job control, excessive job demands and lack of social support in the workplace. Start by trying to manage your workplace stress by speaking with your HR department or boss. If you are unable to effect changes in your job to manage your stress, there are simple lifestyle changes that will help you combat excess stress.

  1. Sleep. Always try to get 7-8 hours a night. We all know how seemingly minor things can annoy us when we are tired!
  2. Exercise. Too many benefits to list! Exercise impacts multiple cardiovascular risk factors in one go combat the feelings of stress and makes you feel good. It is a true panacea!
  3. Reduce alcohol. It is too easy to reach for a glass of wine (or two!) if you are stressed, but too many and it impacts sleep, increases blood pressure and weight and compounds the stress response.
  4. Socialise. People under stress often isolate themselves. Try to stay connected with friends and family
  5. Meditation – there is increasing evidence that meditation can lower your risk and help combat stress and improve general well-being. Just 10 minutes a day can help. I recommend the Headspace app as a great tool to get you started.

If you are worried about your health or the effect stress is having on your heart, make an appointment so see your cardiologist for an assessment.


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