Your palms sweat, your mind races and your heart beats quickly. You’re nervous, and whether or not you realize it, the stress you’re feeling is doing more than affecting your mind — it’s affecting your heart, too.
Even though they’re located in different regions of your body, your heart and mind share a strong connection, which means those emotions that negatively affect your brain have the same effect on your heart.
For example, take broken-heart syndrome (or stress-induced cardiomyopathy), which causes sudden, intense chest pain in response to an emotionally stressful event.
How Stress Can Affect Your Heart
The body experiences two kinds of stress: helpful stress and distress. Helpful stress allows you to accomplish tasks by focusing your attention; distress, however, is what we experience when we’re facing a tight deadline, running late or dealing with an emotional event like a death in the family.
When left unchecked, distress can lead to fatigue and even heart disease. And if you are already dealing with a heart condition—like coronary artery disease—stress can exacerbate it.
Even healthy hearts can experience negative effects during times of high stress. When a cardiologist studied the EKGs of emergency room physicians before and during an emergency call, she found that during the first 30 seconds of an emergency call, the doctors experienced abnormal heart rhythms and oxygen deprivation.
How to Get Stress Under Control
Less worry and stress on your mind means less stress on your heart. But managing stress is often easier said than done. If you find yourself in a stressful situation, consider these tips to keep your stress and heart health under control.
Seek help: If you’re struggling with excessive worry, depression or a large amount of stress, seek help from your doctor, a mental health professional, a family member or friend.
Exercise: Physical activity is not only great for your heart, it also benefits your brain. Try aerobic exercise like walking, swimming, jogging, gardening or dancing.
Try relaxation techniques: Techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help lower your blood pressure, your heart rate and help calm you during times of stress.