In today's fast-paced world filled with increasing demands, it's important to manage your stress level. Some people cope with stress by overeating or eating unhealthy foods, smoking, drinking and other activities that raise their risk for heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure.
Although stress is not a confirmed risk factor for either high blood pressure or heart disease, and has not been proven to cause heart disease, scientists continue to study how stress relates to our health. And while blood pressure may increase temporarily when you're stressed, stress has not been proven to cause chronic high blood pressure.
How much stress do you live with and what is the cost to your health?
Stress definitely affects our bodies. In addition to the emotional discomfort we feel when faced with a stressful situation, our bodies react by releasing stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into the blood. These hormones prepare the body for the "fight or flight response" by making the heart beat faster and constricting blood vessels to get more blood to the core of the body instead of the extremities. Constriction of blood vessels and increase in heart rate does raise blood pressure, but only temporarily; when the stress reaction goes away, blood pressure returns to its pre-stress level. This is called situational stress, and its effects are generally short-lived and disappear when the stressful event is over.
"Fight or flight" is a valuable response when we are faced with an imminent threat that we can handle by confronting or fleeing. However, our modern world contains many stressful events that we can't handle with those options. Chronic (constant) stress causes our bodies to go into high gear on and off for days or weeks at a time. The links between chronic stress and blood pressure are not clear.
Although stress does not clearly cause heart disease, it can play a role in general wellness. Learning new lifestyle habits sometimes requires clearing out the mental clutter. When you can turn down the stress response, you can tune in to good health. Learn how humor can help your heart.
Here are some ways you can learn to be mindful about stressful situations and how you might change what is within your power to change.