How stress affects the heart: health risks

In the popular group, the typical image of someone who, extremely stressed, ends up suffering from all kinds of medical conditions, such as hair loss, gastrointestinal issues and also a heart attack, is very good. established.

Although the relationship between stressful situations and heart problems has always been taken for granted, it is only relatively recently that stress has been incorporated as a risk factor for heart disease.

In this article we will see how stress affects the heart, Explain the importance of the evolutionary stages of a stressful response and discuss some strategies for achieving a healthier heart.

    How Does Stress Affect the Heart?

    Stress is an emotion that is present all over the world at some point in their life. Like any emotion, it involves a series of consequences depending on its degree of appearance, its intensity and its type.

    One of the most popular definitions of stress is that it is a fight or flight response to a threatening situation, although that is not entirely correct. Today we understand it as stress physiological, psychological and behavioral response that a subject makes to adjust and adapt to pressures, Both internal and external, to which it was subjected.

    These pressures can be really threatening and involve a negative response in both the mind and body of the (distracted) individual. However, stress can also appear in a beneficial context for health, such as the practice of high intensity sport (eustress).

    As already mentioned, stress involves a physiological response, which it can be observed by seeing the hormonal changes that the individual is exhibiting. The body is on guard and prepares to face a situation that it must overcome to ensure its survival. There are a number of changes at the circulatory level. The levels of glucose, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in the bloodstream increase.

    The body concentrates its energies on the brain, heart and muscles, to the detriment of other organs. Heart rate increases, muscles contract increasing the strength of the individual for a short time, breathing is accelerated, the coronary vessels as well as the skeletal muscles dilate while the vessels linked to the digestive system contract. The bladder relaxes, the rectum contracts, the pupils dilate and the body begins to sweat.

    cardiovascular illnesses

    Although stress has been linked to heart problems since time immemorial, it is only relatively recently that stress has been included as a potentiation factor in cardiovascular disease. Cardiopsychology is the branch of health sciences responsible for defining the relationship between psychosocial factors and the onset and rehabilitation of heart disease.

    People who are more likely to exhibit this emotion more often are also more likely to express it. cardiovascular problems such as cerebral ischemia or stroke, angina and heart attack.

    Blood pressure skyrockets and malignant arrhythmias occur. The risk of thrombi is higher because platelets in the blood increase and clotting increases. In turn, the effectiveness of insulin decreases and the levels of low density lipoprotein also decrease, which is popularly known as good cholesterol. The blood becomes thicker and the arteries lose their elasticity, accumulating harmful substances in their walls and making it difficult for blood to pass.

    The sympathetic nervous system, if kept active for a long time, begins to function inefficiently. This causes problems with electrical conduction to the heart, contributing to this irregular shape (arrhythmia). In more severe cases, the arrhythmia can turn into sudden cardiac arrest, resulting in the death of the individual.

      Importance of stressful phases

      As already mentioned, not all stress is bad. In turn, it is a response that guarantees the survival of the individual if given in the right situation and at highly functional levels for the individual.

      The problem occurs when the body exhibits this response for too long or with too much intensity. faced with a threat which, perhaps, is not for all that.

      Therefore, to understand a little more in depth the difference between healthy stress and distress, we present the phases of this process, relating them to cardiovascular health.

      1. First phase: alarm

      The alarm is the first phase given in response to a stressful event. This is where the individual decides to opt for one of two strategies: fight or run away.

      This phase involves a high consumption of energy and is essential for the individual to be able to adapt to the new situation.

      If the alarm phase has passed correctly, it automatically goes into the recovery phase, inhibiting the sympathetic nervous system and mainly parasympathetic, which restores balance before the onset of the stressful stimulus.

      2. Second phase: resistance

      In the event that the first phase was not successfully completed or recovery has taken place, the resistance phase has entered.

      The individual remains active and concentrates his forces on dealing with the threatening situation, which leads to a gradual depletion of energy reserves. On another side, the neuroendocrine system is under intense activity, Causing it to become ineffective until the decision is made.

      The reasons why stress manifests itself ineffectively may be related to exposure to a very intense or chronic acute stressor.

      It may also be because the individual himself has a personality disorder, does not have effective resources to cope with stress, or suffers from an organic disease that affects the neuroendocrine system.

      3. Third phase: exhaustion

      At this point, where the body has been under a lot of pressure, stress becomes a health problem, Contributing to the appearance of both physical and psychological pathology.

      How to prevent the effects of stress on the heart?

      One of the key factors in having a good quality of life is having low levels of stress, in addition to having the resources to know how to cope in a healthy way in situations that involve change or are threatening. Here are some strategies that help reduce the damaging effects of stress on cardiovascular health.

      1. Physical exercise

      Sedentary people are more likely to have heart problems. This is not only because not exercising often leads to health problems in itself, but also people who do not exercise often tend to feel more moody and irritable.

      Thus, their cardiovascular risk is twofold, as they can develop medical conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, resulting in increased pressure on the heart.

      It is recommended to perform exercises in which large muscle groups are involved for long periods of time, such as swimming, cycling or aerobics.

      2. Food

      Another key to good cardiovascular health is controlling what you eat.

      A balanced diet with appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, healthy fats, proteins, trace elements and vitamins, promotes the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system, as well as good emotional stability.

      Fats and sugars can contribute to a bad mood, And therefore tend to be stressed. Foods that contain these nutrients should be eaten in moderation. Consumption of caffeinated beverages, especially cola and coffee carbonated drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages and tobacco should also be reduced, as their components promote the onset of stress.

      Needless to say, not all caffeinated drinks are potentially stressful, as green tea promotes the upregulation of stress hormones.

      3. Sleep well

      The one who sleeps badly is found cranky the next day and, of course, more likely to be “attacked” at least. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep a day, as sleep helps renew cells.

      Not sleeping can cause the individual to be immersed in a cycle that returns to himAs you get more and more stressed and in turn, stress causes you insomnia.

      4. Meditation

      Techniques such as pilates, yoga, tai chi or simple controlled breathing can have great benefits in reducing stress, calming not only the mind but also the heart.

      With this type of technique, the heart rate is reduced, Decreased risk of heart problems such as heart attacks or irregular heartbeats. It lowers blood pressure, improves circulation and the immune system.

        5. Professional help

        In case you have serious stress control issues and are already noticing symptoms of a possible heart problem, seeking professional help is never too much.

        The doctor should be sure whether or not there is a risk of suffering from heart disease, while seeing the psychologist will help to learn strategies. to deal appropriately with stressful situations.

        In case of too much stress due to the fact that the person is very irritable, it is strongly recommended to take anger management courses.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Alonso-Fernández, C. (2009). Stress in cardiovascular disease. In López-Farré, A. and Macaya-Miquel, C. Cardiovascular health book from the Clínic San Carlos Hospital and the BBVA Foundation. (583-590). Spain: BBVA Foundation.
        • Cohen BE, Edmondson D., Kronish IM (2015). Review of the state of the art: depression, stress, anxiety and cardiovascular disease. I am J Hypertens. 2015; 28 (11): 1295-1302.
        • Wei J., Rooks C., Ramadan R., et al (2014). Meta-analysis of myocardial ischemia induced by mental stress and successive cardiac events in patients with coronary artery disease. Am J Cardiol. 114 (2): 187-192.
        • Williams, RB (2015). Myocardial ischemia induced by mental stress and anger: mechanisms and clinical implications. Am Heart J; 169 (1): 4-5.

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