National Stress Awareness Day is observed on the first Wednesday in November — this year on Nov. 6. Not only is it the perfect time to reflect on your daily life and the stress factors that come with it, but it is also a day to remind yourself that stress can severely affect your heart health.
We are faced with work responsibilities, the ups and downs of personal relationships, financial difficulties and much more every day. These stress factors not only leave us feeling exhausted and emotional but can even take a physical toll on our bodies — especially our hearts.
How Does Stress Affect the Heart?
When we become stressed, our blood pressure increases (also known as hypertension) due to the adrenaline hormone released by our bodies to protect us. We may also experience fits of asthma or trouble breathing. Sometimes we react to stress with unhealthy habits like overeating, discontinuing exercise, smoking, and/or drinking to ease the burden that comes with feeling stressed.
Unfortunately, many of the ways we temporarily deal with stress comes at a long-term price for our health. According to the American Heart Association, the increase in blood pressure that comes with these unhealthy habits and the way we react to stress in general, can damage artery walls in the heart.
When our hearts beat faster, they work harder. And when the heart is being constantly overworked, there is an increased chance of heart attack and the development of cardiovascular disease.
If you have a family history of heart disease or if you’ve already been diagnosed with some form of heart disease, be extra aware of how you react when you become stressed.
How Do I Know Stress is Affecting My Heart?
If you experience any of the following symptoms during times of distress, contact a medical professional immediately:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle weakness
- Severe heart palpitations (a strong pounding of heartbeats)
Five Ways to Reduce Stress
The good news is that there is a positive outlook when it comes to managing your stress. Stress is something we all experience in our lives, but we deal with it in different ways. Here are five of our favorite stress-relieving activities to try in your daily lives.
- Breathing Exercises: Take time to focus on your breathing. When we focus, we can slow our heart rate and feel calmer. Try these three breathing exercises to start you on your stress-free journey.
- Meditation: In today’s digital age, we have the ability to decompress and meditate from anywhere. Whether you download a meditation app or attend a class, know that you are taking a step in the right direction when it comes to managing your stress. Meditation, or mindfulness, is the practice of focusing your attention on objects or positive thoughts that help you achieve mental clarity. It can be difficult at first, but the more you practice, the better at it you will become.
- Yoga: Not only are you setting aside time to relax and get in touch with your inner self, but you are also exercising. Between the flow of physical movements and breathing techniques implemented into this ancient meditative exercise, your heart will also thank you. Learn more about how yoga aids in heart health.
- Eating Stress-Free Foods: When we react to stress by overeating and making unhealthy choices, we are only feeding into our stress. There are actually foods you can implement into your diet that will help reduce stress. Oranges, spinach and sweet potatoes are just some of the stress-free foods to try. See our whole list here.
- Accepting Stress: When we accept that some unfavorable situations are simply out of our control, we will feel less inclined to stress about them. If you are able to change a stressful situation to make it better, great. But if you cannot, take a moment to look at the big picture of the situation and see how you can deal with it in a positive way. Try this and a few more tips from the American Heart Association.
We hope you take the time to reflect on the stress factors in your life this upcoming National Stress Awareness Day and every day beyond it. With the holiday season fast-approaching, it’s always best to get ahead of the stress.
It’s time to consult with your doctor today about how stress is affecting your life so that you can find proper treatment options, as well as check in on your heart health. Refer to our heart disease facts guide to learn more about your heart health.