Which means, stress can kill. When the body react to stress, it acts as if it’s being threatened. Think of the “fight or flight” response. Our pupils dilate; our heart begins to race; our blood vessels dilate. More oxygen has to get to the right places so we can think clearly and run if we have to.
The same thing happens with stress, except that, instead of being an infrequent event, stress keeps our bodies in a constant state of “fight or flight.” Unrelenting, unmanaged stress can lead to high blood pressure, which weakens the blood vessels throughout the body due to the increased pressure. This leaves them vulnerable to plaque formation and aneurysms in the future.
Other Contributing Factors
Stress doesn’t just keep our bodies on high alert; it also affects our behavior and decision-making abilities. Pressed for time at work, we may make less healthy food choices – opting instead to visit the vending machine or the fast food joint down the street.
We may look to comfort foods to ease the pressure. Unfortunately, comfort foods are often full of fat that help expand our waistline. Plus, more fat means more cholesterol and more weight gain, both of which can increase our chance of developing heart disease. And, with our vessels already weakened by chronic stress, atherosclerosis can become a real possibility.
Smoking is another habit that impacts our body and contributes to heart disease. Most people don’t pick up smoking in adulthood, but they may start again after quitting because of the stressors in their lives. Smoking decreases lung capacity, and nicotine causes blood vessels to become less elastic. Combine less elasticity and a weakened condition and our blood vessels don’t stand a chance.
Drinking is another habit that’s can increase during times of stress. Alcohol directly affects the liver. What does this have to do with the heart? Since the liver is the organ that filters blood and processes cholesterol and triglycerides, if it’s not working properly, we can develop metabolic imbalances in our bodies leading to diabetes and higher cholesterol levels, both contributors to heart disease.
Managing chronic stress is important to overall health. The impact that stress has on our lives goes beyond sleepless nights and dark circles under the eyes. The very heart that pumps life-giving blood through our bodies can suffer, too.
Thinking about reducing stress shouldn’t cause more stress! Here are three sure-fire ways to lower stress levels, even if it’s only for a little while.
- Turn up the music! It’s long been known that music can calm the savage beast, but it works well on stress in humans, too. So crank up your favorite tunes (to a reasonable level, you don’t need to damage your eardrums) and let yourself go. It’s even okay if you want to get up and dance. I won’t tell.
- Play a game. Being able to change your thinking and focus on something completely different can have a marked improvement on immediate stress levels. A quick game of solitaire or some other game can help you refocus your mind and relax your body.
- Doodle. Drawing isn’t just for kids and artists. Like playing a game, doodling can allow our brains to move into a different kind of thinking. In this case, it also moves you into the right (creative) side of your brain. Doodling can also help express anger, frustration and other emotions – in sense letting them out without saying a word.
How stressful is your life?
What methods have you used to reduce stress?
If you’ve missed the other Living a Heart Healthy Lifestyle posts, you can find them here: Heart Healthy Lifestyle Series