There’s a connection between stress and heart health, and it’s rooted into ancient history. The fight or flight response once existed to help our ancestors make life-saving decisions. If they were attacked by a predator, would they run or would they fight? As life got more complicated, this same stress reaction occurred more frequently, this time when we were faced with emotional stress, environmental stress, money and family hardships, relationship struggles, and more. The release of adrenergic hormones happening weekly or even daily instead of infrequently leads to anxiety, panic disorders, and depression, as well as a thickening of the heart muscles, which can result in heart failure. When the endothelial function of our hearts is threatened, blockages occur and heart attacks become a serious concern.
This explains why getting our stress under control is of the utmost importance, especially now. Cardiovascular disease was dubbed an underlying condition known to negatively affect patients diagnosed with COVID-19 more often leading to hospitalizations and death than for those without heart disease or other complications. Not to mention, the pandemic itself is a source of stress. “The fear of contracting COVID and potentially dying, the extremes of social distancing and lack of socialization, the loss of income, the lack of vacations and relaxation, and more contributed to this stress,” says Dr. Ramin Manshadi of The Manshadi Heart Institute. Even without an underlying condition, COVID-19 can negatively affect the heart and lead to weakening of the heart or arrhythmia.
Luckily, many of the activities that have a positive effect on the heart also reduce stress. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce daily stress as well as improve cardiovascular health (unless you’ve recently been diagnosed with or recovered from COVID-19 in which case you should delay excessive exercise). Meditation and yoga can also help, as well as practicing mindfulness. The best way to combat heart problems related to stress, however, is to try and reduce overall stress. Therapy can help build your toolbelt against better handling stress or even help determine what stressors can be eliminated. While it’s impossible to eliminate all stress from our lives, the goal is to live a more peaceful existence and protect our hearts from preventable disease.
“This pandemic has significantly increased the overall stress level of our society,” Ramin Manshadi
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