Wellness Wednesdays: How stress affects your heart
It's well known that consuming sugary and fatty foods and living a sedentary lifestyle can negatively affect your heart health. But what isn't so publicly discussed is how heart health is impacted by stress.
"The symptoms of stress and anxiety are often felt right [in the heart]," explains Dr. Karen Latimer to AOL Lifestyle. That feeling of pressure and anxiety hasn't changed since our ancestors were often tossed into "fight or flight" situations. For example, our brains have a hard time distinguishing a predator from an angry boss.
"It all feels like a potentially fatal threat," she explains Latimer. "That amped up response, while great in a life-or-death situation, overtime is cumulatively dangerous to our heart health. Many of us are living in a constant state of stress and therefore are in a constant state of this heightened response."
But what does this look like?
We feel anxious with danger. Our body sends a signal to our adrenal glands to release stress hormones, first adrenaline then cortisol. Consequently, our heart rate increases, as does blood pressure. Breathing becomes more rapid, muscles tense and eyes dilate. If the threat goes away, all of these symptoms are calmed by the parasympathetic nervous system.
However, what if the threat persists? "Many of us have a chronic level of unhealthy stress, keeping our body in high alert," Latimer continued. That continued level of stress takes a toll on the body, including on the digestive and the immune system.
See more of stress' impact on the heart in the video above.