Stress and Heart Health

How do you handle stress? Believe it or not, your answer may say a lot about your health in general, and your heart health in particular. Increasingly, studies are finding that while stress itself isn’t detrimental to our health, our ability (or lack of ability) to manage stress can be. Our reactions to everyday stressors like flat tires and long workdays as well as big stress situations like an unexpected illness or the loss of a job form a stress management pattern that affects overall health and wellness. February is Heart Month, and since one of our goals at Senior Lifestyle is helping residents, families and team members maintain healthy hearts as well as overall health, we’re sharing some information we found both interesting and useful in managing stress.

How do our bodies respond to stress?  According to Mayo Clinic, your body is “hard-wired to react to stress in ways meant to protect you from predators and other aggressors.” While those threats may be rare today, others have crept in to take their places. Demands on your time in the form of heavy workloads, family obligations and other “everyday” stressors are perceived as threats, starting a cascade effect which begins in your hypothalamus, setting off an alarm system in your body. This alarm then prompts your adrenal glands to release hormones including adrenaline and the “stress hormone” cortisol. According to Mayo Clinic, “adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.”

The stress “fight or flight” system is normally self-limiting; that is, when the stress goes away, the response goes away, but when this cascade effect is prompted by one stressor after another, our bodies’ reactions to stress can go a bit haywire, with the fight-or-flight response always on, causing overexposure to adrenaline and cortisol, putting you at risk for numerous health problems, including digestive problems, headaches, anxiety, depression, heart disease, sleep problems and weight gain.

While stress is here to stay, the key to preventing stress-related heart health issues lies in managing stress efficiently. Learning about what stresses you and how to care for yourself in stressful situations is vital in managing stress. Stress management strategies may include:

  • Taking time to enjoy hobbies
  • Fostering healthy friendships
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga
  • Having a healthy sense of humor
  • Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise
  • Following a healthy sleep schedule
  • Seeking professional counseling if needed

Knowing your personal stressors and how to cope with them is an important part of stress management, and an important part of staying healthy. At Senior Lifestyle, we believe in treating the whole person, a holistic approach which can help ease stresses and promote efficient stress management techniques. For information on a Senior Lifestyle community near you, please visit our website at

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