These common sources of chronic stress impact millions of Americans, and now new research shows they may be as dangerous as smoking.
Stress is Dangerous for Your Heart
This isn’t the first time chronic stress has been linked to heart dangers. There is extensive evidence that both emotional and physical stress negatively impact your heart and vascular system in a number of ways. For instance:
“Stress hormones (catecholamines, including epinephrine, which is also known as adrenaline) have damaging effects if the heart is exposed to elevated catecholamine levels for a long time.
Stress can cause increased oxygen demand on the body, spasm of the coronary (heart) blood vessels, and electrical instability in the heart’s conduction system.
Chronic stress has been shown to increase the heart rate and blood pressure, making the heart work harder to produce the blood flow needed for bodily functions. Long-term elevations in blood pressure … are harmful and can lead to myocardial infarction (heart attack), heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and stroke.”[iii]
Among the heart-related effects of chronic stress are:[iv]
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Increased oxygen demand
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
More Health Risks from Chronic Stress
It’s not only your heart that suffers from chronic stress, of course. Your whole body is actually affected. On a physical level, chronic stress can impact your immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems, leading to health problems such as:[v]
- Weakened immune system
- Muscle pain
Chronic stress has also recently been found to interfere with your body’s ability to regulate the inflammatory response, as it alters tissue sensitivity to stress hormones like cortisol.[vi] It’s thought that this may be the reason why stress not only plays a role in the development of diseases but also often leads to physical pain.
On an emotional level, chronic stress is also detrimental and is linked to mental health challenges including depression and anxiety.
7 Top Solutions to End Stress
In an ideal world you’d be able to flip a switch and have all of your worries disappear; or at least, you’d be able to change the circumstances that lead to stress in your life, such as finding a job that you love, working out disagreements with loved ones, having an abundance of financial wealth and the time to pursue your passions. Even the American Psychological Association (APA) states:[vii]
“The key to managing stress is recognizing and changing the behaviors that cause it. However, changing the behavior can be challenging.”
If you can’t immediately change the scenarios causing stress in your life, commit to making small changes for the better. As the APA continues:[viii]
“Taking one small step to reduce your stress and improve your emotional health, such as going on a daily walk, can have a beneficial effect.”
Along those lines, here’s a list of the top suggestions to help you cope with and manage the stress in your life. You don’t have to do all of these today, but make a promise to yourself to incorporate at least one or two into your daily routine to help find lasting calm and peace.
7. Exercise regularly, which will help lower your body’s production of stress hormones and raise your levels of “feel-good” neurotransmitters called endorphins
6. Use relaxation techniques like meditation, prayer, yoga, reading, biofeedback and journaling
5. Talk about your feelings with friends, family members or a professional counselor
4. Learn to say “no” if you’re feeling overwhelmed (focus only on those commitments that are most important to you)
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed junk foods
2. Make sure you’re sleeping enough each night
1. Try to stay positive: looking on the bright side and recognizing that you don’t have to be perfect can give your mood a boost