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  • Writer's pictureBobby Banahan

Understanding How Stress Affects Your Heart

Updated: 2 days ago

Stress is an unavoidable part of life for most people, but it can have a serious influence on your overall health. While stress affects your body in various ways, it has a particularly profound impact on your heart, highlighting the importance of learning to manage and reduce stress levels to the fullest extent possible.

A man in business clothes, holding both of his hands at his temples, depicting him feeling stressed

How stress contributes to poor health habits

Everyone feels and handles stress in their own way, and the things that stress you out may differ broadly from the things keeping your friends or family members up at night. While everyone faces unique stressors, it’s a shared and unfortunate reality that high stress levels often contribute to unhealthy habits.

Take smoking, for example. Many smokers say they experience stress relief when having a cigarette. When people feel under pressure, they’re also more prone to adopting other unhealthy behaviors.

Emotional eating

If you’ve ever found yourself “eating your feelings,” you’re in good company. Overeating is a common response to stress, and it’s also one that can lead to weight gain – which, in turn, can raise the risk of inflammation, hypertension and heart failure.

Sedentary behavior

When you feel overwhelmed, you may feel less motivated to move – but reducing your level of physical activity raises your risk of heart disease. It also lowers your “good” cholesterol levels, which can also contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Several types of junk food on a table

Poor dietary choices

If you find yourself reaching for something unhealthy when you’re stressed, know that there’s actually a scientific reason for it. Stress triggers the release of certain hormones that can increase your cravings for fat, sugar and other unhealthy fare. It can also make you less likely to feel like cooking, raising the chances of you grabbing a convenient, but less nutritious, option, like fast food.

The more you understand about the connection between stress and unhealthy habits, the more proactive an approach you can take to managing stress levels and maintaining control of your health.

A person sitting at a table, with their arm extended, while they are getting their blood pressure checked

How stress affects blood pressure

It’s well-documented that high stress levels can temporarily raise blood pressure, but how stress affects blood pressure over time is not entirely clear. Adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms, like smoking or overindulging in alcohol or caffeine, can lead to temporary blood pressure spikes, though, and this can be enough to raise your risk of heart disease.

Also, while stress typically elevates stress levels for a short time, in some cases those short, rapid spikes in blood pressure can be enough to cause heart attacks, strokes or long-term damage to your heart or kidneys.

How stress can lead to heart disease

Stress can be acute, meaning it’s temporary in nature and typically the result of a single event, or chronic, meaning it lasts weeks, months or even longer. While acute stress is unlikely to cause long-term damage to heart health, chronic stress can raise the risk of heart disease in several key ways.

First, it increases the odds of adopting those unhealthy habits that are already bad for heart health, like smoking and living a sedentary lifestyle. Second, it triggers inflammation throughout the body, which can cause plaque to develop in the arteries, placing additional strain on the heart and blood vessels.

How to reduce stress and heart disease risks

Adopting healthier lifestyle habits and incorporating more stress-reduction tactics into your daily routine can go a long way in terms of reducing your risk of heart problems. Check out our blog for more about how stress impacts heart health and what you can do to reduce your own stress levels and pave the way for a healthier heart.


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