Stress is normal in our everyday experience of life. When facing threatening situations and demands in life stress helps us adapt quickly. However, chronic stress take a toll on our body. It contributes to ongoing mood swings, hormonal imbalance, fatigue and exhaustion, ultimately contributing to a worrying state of stress and heart health.
When we are stressed our heartbeat speeds up, we sweat more, our stress hormones increase, our blood vessels constrict and our heart redirects the blood away from our digestive system for a short while but it should not remain elevated for too long.
When our stress levels remain elevated, it interferes with many functions including immune function, sleep, digestion (IBS) and their ability to keep our hormones in balance and make healthy food choices. Continuous life stress may cause physical diseases such as coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, excess abdominal fat, high blood sugar and inflammation.
Heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, stomach cramps and IBS are all linked to, or worsened by, chronic stress.
“The intimate connection between mental health and physical well being has long been recognized; mental health can affect illness and disease, just as illness might affect mental health” according to Mathew Bambling.
How do we understand the mind-body connection for better health?
Psychological interventions such as relaxation and meditation, counselling and psychotherapy in the face of stress, have been shown to not only reduce depression, but also to reduce the physiological changes caused by stress. These interventions can not only provide a treatment for depression and anxiety, but can actually undo the negative physiological consequences that might lead to coronary heart disease and other negative health outcomes (Anthony & Swinson, 1996).
The relationship between depression and coronary heart disease serves as a useful example to demonstrate how thoughts and mood might influence physical health.
“The risk of coronary heart disease increases fourfold in depressed people. Men with depression are 2.34 times more likely to die of heart disease than non-depressed men”, According to a study in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine
However, in this day and age, the constant stressors related to work, family life, financial concerns, noise, pollution, toxins in food, air and water and terrorism are even more heightened. This can feel like a never ending cycle where we experience continuous high levels of the hormone cortisol. This cannot be maintained continuously without negatively affecting sleep, digestion, immune function and the heart.
What is the relationship between stress and heart health?
Optimal psychological health and physical health is achieved through a balance between the mind and body. It is so significant that chronic stress can be the factor that tips the balance into acute, and then chronic negative emotions such as anger, hostility and resentment. This may then lead to metabolic changes and increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
According to recent findings from The Psychiatry Journal, “Psychological factors, such as depression and anxiety, are independently associated with an increased risk of both diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease”
These mental and physical responses can change by decreasing chronic stress. Adjusting our emotional responses to stress can make positive differences in how we think; what we believe and our lifestyle.