can stress and anxiety cause heart problems
Heart and Vascular

Can Stress and Anxiety Cause Heart Problems?

Feb 8 2024

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, stress and anxiety are often part of everyday life. Too much of either one can have a negative effect on both your mental and physical health. But can stress and anxiety cause heart problems?

Understanding stress and anxiety

Stress is our body’s natural response to challenges, like a built-in alarm system. Anxiety, on the other hand, is stress that sticks around, creating a prolonged feeling of unease or worry. Both of these emotions can affect us physically, including our hearts.

How stress physically affects you

When we encounter stress, our bodies kick into a “fight or flight” mode. This means hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released. These hormonal changes can impact our blood pressure and heart rate, which are crucial factors for heart health.

Anxiety, being a more long-lasting form of stress, has been linked to irregular heart rhythms. Studies suggest that persistent anxiety might increase the risk of heart problems by affecting the way our heart beats.

Long-term effects of chronic stress

If you’ve ever felt stressed for a long time, you might have noticed it takes a toll on your body. Chronic stress can make your heart work harder, potentially having a negative effect on your cardiovascular health.

When we’re stressed or anxious, our bodies might go into a state of inflammation, which is like a low-grade fire inside us. This process has been linked to various health issues and can increase your risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack and other heart-related conditions. Chronic inflammation can pose risks to our blood vessels and heart tissues.

Other symptoms of chronic stress include:

“I can’t emphasize the importance of addressing and managing the stress in our lives,” says Dena K. Krishnan, DO, a cardiologist in our Hampton Roads market and board president of the Hampton Roads American Heart Association. “It contributes to weight gain, disturbs restorative sleep and leads to elevated blood sugars and blood pressure.”

Healthy coping strategies

In order to avoid causing long-lasting issues to your heart, it’s necessary to adopt mechanisms to help you cope with stress in a healthy way and manage stress effectively in the long term.

  • Regular exercise: Moving your body routinely has both a mental and physical effect. Exercise releases dopamine and endorphins, which lower your stress level by helping you feel calmer and improving your mood. Physical activity helps your heart in several ways, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow and reducing inflammation.
  • Mindfulness: The benefits of mindfulness on your heart are less direct than exercise and diet, but they work as a stress reducer, which ultimately helps your heart in the long run. Practicing breathing techniques, doing yoga or meditating can calm you both mentally and physically.
  • Maintaining social connections: This isn’t a suggestion to fill your social calendar for the sake of being social. Being intentional about maintaining genuine relationships with friends, family, coworkers and other acquaintances allows you to “fill your cup” – meaning you derive a sense of fulfillment from these interactions, which can leave you feeling more relaxed and less stressed out.

“We are creatures of habit, so find little ways to improve your daily routine. This can be meal prepping, going on walks, packing a water bottle and finding time to ‘reset” with family or friends,” Dr. Krishnan says.

Seeking professional support

Building a strong support network is crucial for emotional well-being. However, sometimes enlisting a mental health professional is necessary. They can provide expert guidance on managing emotional stress and anxiety effectively.

It’s also important to seek professional help if you are experiencing ongoing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Postponing treatment for these mental health conditions can lead to them worsening over time.

“As a cardiologist who helps patients recover from heart attacks, arrhythmias, and heart failure, a big part of my job is identifying lifestyle changes that can reduce stress and help support the heart in healing,” Dr. Krishnan says.

When to talk with a provider

The relationship between stress, anxiety and heart problems is intricate. Chronic stress and persistent anxiety may contribute to physical changes that can impact heart health. Taking proactive steps to manage stress, adopting healthy coping mechanisms, considering medication for stress and anxiety and seeking professional support are vital for promoting heart health.

However, while these emotional states can play a role, it’s important to consider other factors like genetics, lifestyle and overall health. Addressing both physical and emotional well-being is important. If you are concerned about how stress and anxiety can cause heart problems and affect your health, you can start by speaking with your primary care physician who understands your personal health history and can get you started on the right track to cardiovascular wellness.

Want to learn more about your heart health? Take our online heart risk assessment today.

Also, learn about the heart and vascular care services we provide at Bon Secours. 

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