It’s impossible to completely avoid stress in today’s busy world. Stressful situations like a job interview or getting lost in a strange city can cause you to feel tense and on edge. The flight-or-fight reaction is meant to protect us from dangerous situations. As humans evolved, the flight-or-flight response that had been triggered by seeing a lion in the wild is now triggered by an unexpected flat tire or even having to give a presentation at work. And all that stress can be hard on your heart if you don’t find a healthy way to manage it.
Fight-or-Flight in 2010
When it kicks in, the body responds by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenalin into the blood stream. The hormonal changes can cause the following reactions:
· Increased or shallow breathing
· Tight muscles
· A stiff neck and tense shoulders
· Sweaty palms
· Diarrhea or nausea
Fighting or fleeing is not usually an option to the stressors in today’s world. The surge of adrenalin is usually not a useful tool to ward off your boss’s latest request. Money management, moving to a new city, health issues and family conflicts can cause longer lasting stress, or chronic stress. Being under stress for a long period of time can cause a multitude of health problems, and can exacerbate existing issues. When it comes to the heart, stress is linked to heart related problems like:
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Hardening of the arteries
- Heart attack
Doctors have recently discovered a link between chronic stress and heart disease. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands during stressful times and shows up in the hair shaft. Researchers measured the amount of cortisol in patients who suffered from heart disease and found significantly more cortisol in their hair than the control group.
There are several ways that stress can increase the risk of heart disease. There are physical changes, such as high levels of stress hormones and increased blood pressure,that have a negative effect on your health. Stress also changes the way blood clots, leading to the increased risk of having a heart attack. There are indirect behavioral effects as well. Someone who is under stress may not eat or sleep well and may turn to alcohol or cigarettes to relieve tension.
Stress doesn’t have to rule your life. Speak to your doctor about ways to manage stress and improve your health. Here are some good stress busters:
- Keep a journal: Figure out what is causing stress in your life and which daily events are putting pressure on you.
- Time management:Make a schedule and complete important tasks first.
- Control your thoughts:Try to redirect thoughts that are negative or about things you cannot control.
- Let it out: Don’t bottle up your emotions. Find someone–a friend, counselor or spiritual advisor–to lean on in rough times.
If you’re experiencing heart pain or tightness in your chest, it is always best to err on the side of caution and get it checked out immediately. To make an appointment with one of the experienced cardiologists at St. Petersburg General Hospital, visit us online or call our Consult-A-Nurse®line at 727-341-4055.