Most of us are under some degree of stress at certain points in our lives, but nearly all of us have struggled with stress in recent years as we negotiate a global pandemic. These extraordinarily high levels of stress can take their toll in myriad ways, both mentally and physically, and shouldn’t be ignored.
To help put a fine point on the effect of emotional stress on your physical health, including your heart health, Dr. Satjit Bhusri and our team here at Upper East Side Cardiology present the following points to consider.
The physiology of stress
When you’re stressed, your body enters a fight-or-flight mode, which is triggered by your sympathetic nervous system.
When this occurs, several physiological changes occur, including:
- Increased heart rate
- Dilation of your coronary blood vessels
- Increased blood flow to your muscles
- Reduced blood flow to your skin and digestive tract
- Increased respiration rate
- Pupil dilation
These physiological changes are designed to better prepare your body to either fight or flee and are meant to be only temporary. When you exist in a state of constant emotional stress, however, this state of heightened alert and tension forces your body to remain locked in this mode.
The effects of long-term stress on your heart
Long-term stress can affect your health in many ways, from chronic headaches to sexual dysfunction. From our angle, we’re concerned about the effect that constant emotional stress can have on your cardiovascular health.
If your body remains in a fight-or-flight mode for long periods, your increased heart rate can lead to high blood pressure, which can damage your blood vessels and leave you more at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
As well, stress can limit the blood flow to your heart, forcing it to work harder to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your body. This extra workload can place stress on your heart, leaving you more vulnerable to heart disease.
The effects of emotional stress on your heart
While we’ve spent time discussing the physical effects of stress on your body, let’s take a look at how emotional stress, in particular, can lead to secondary actions that impact your health.
For example, emotional stress often leads to emotional eating, which means you may be shoveling down food that’s not terribly good for you.
Perhaps you’re drinking more alcohol or you’ve picked up smoking as ways to self-medicate your stress. While these activities may provide a temporary respite from your stress, they are doing far more damage to your long-term health.
Another example of succumbing to your emotional stress is hiding out on the couch and not keeping up with your regular exercise regimen.
As much as emotional stress can have a direct impact on your health, these secondary behaviors can cause just as much, if not more, harm.
Relieving your stress for better heart health
If you feel you’re experiencing too much emotional stress, we urge you to come see us for a preventive cardiology assessment. During this visit, we can not only evaluate your cardiovascular health, but help you come up with ways to reduce your emotional stress.
To get started, contact our New York City office on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to set up an appointment.