Chapel Hill, You Won't Believe What Stress Does To Your Heart!
Do your finances keep you up at night?
Do you worry about your kids all the time?
Are you overwhelmed at work?
If you live in the Chapel Hill area and struggle with stress then you are in the right place. It seems commonplace for us to have some sort of constant stress affecting our lives. The some common stressors are money, work, relationships, and children. At some point it starts affecting our health and we start to feel it in our bodies.
When you experience stress, what do you notice that happens to your body?
Chest tightness, pain
Shortness of breath
Am I too young to have a heart attack?
I have to admit that Chinese Medical school was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I was a complete stress ball for years. By the end of my 4 years of schooling, I had a scary experience and thought I was having a heart attack. As medical students, you do start to feel like you have every symptom in the book, but this was different. I woke from a deep sleep with the sensation of an elephant on my chest or something like that. I was so freaked out. After running some tests at the local clinic, I was diagnosed with costochondritis. It mimics heart attack like symptoms, but is inflammation of the cartilage around the your ribs. There is no know cause for it, but I have a suspicion that it was stress induced. My blood pressure had been elevated while in school. My sleep was awful and I was exhausted. Then you add the high anxiety, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. The good news is that I graduated without a heart attack. My blood pressure went back to normal, I slept better, and rarely felt anxious.
That was a real wake up call for me especially since heart disease runs in my family. So when I see patients stressed out I pay close attention to their hearts. I take their blood pressure, feel their pulses, and palpate areas on their body associated with the heart. Clinically, I am amazed at how many patients have heart dysfunctions. I am even talking about young people too. By looking at most of my patients, you wouldn’t guess it. They seem fit and eat a relatively healthy diet. So what is going on here?
I believe we need to stop downplaying stress and start taking it seriously. Sadly, it seems that most of us live in a constant state of stress. Let's explore what stress is doing to our hearts.
Not all stress is bad for us. Stress is a natural defense mechanism to keep us safe and alive. Normally, we are suppose to be in a state of relaxation, which is governed by our parasympathetic nervous system. When there is a threat, it triggers our sympathetic nervous system called the fight or flight response. Our adrenal glands secrete stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline so we can run away from that dangerous tiger that is chasing us. In response to the threat, the body increases blood flow to our muscles, increases our heart rate, and prepares our body to escape the danger. When the threat is gone, we switch back into the parasympathetic response of relaxation.
How Does Stress Affect Your Heart?
The real problem is that we are under a constant state of stress and not getting back into a calm and relaxed state. So the adrenal glands are working overtime and forced to continue pumping these stress hormones into our bloodstream. Now our body is in a constant fight or flight response causing our heart rate and blood pressure to increase and constrict the blood vessels. Stress causes our muscles to tighten up, which puts further constriction on our blood vessels and heart. If you compound this stress over years, you can start to image what happens to our heart over time. It has to continue pumping harder and faster for indefinitely and can lead to hypertension and other heart conditions.
Here are some surprising heart facts: College of American Cardiology, American Heart Association
Heart attacks are the number 1 killer for women
Over 200,000 women die annually from a heart attack
Women dying of heart attacks are five times higher than dying from cancer.
1 out of 3 people have heart disease
34% of Americans have high blood pressure
A Relaxed Heart Is A Healthy Heart.
The good news is you can take control of your stress response and support your heart.
I recommend checking in with yourself and rating your stress level. How high is your stress and is it time to do something about it?
There are a variety of relaxation techniques out there to help you manage your stress and reduce the negative effects of stress has on your heart.
Listed below are a few of my favorites:
Emotional Freedom Tapping
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine
Stay tuned to learn more about these modalities to reduce and manage stress.
In Good Health,
Stacy Spence is an Integrative Medical Practitioner and acupuncturist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina specializing in pain relief. She loves sharing her passion for natural approaches to professional women through her online articles and at her clinic.