Heart Disease & Stress: How to tackle it
Monday, February 24, 2020

Research has shown that excessive and extreme stress can be as dangerous to your heart as eating a diet that is high in fat or a lack of physical exercise.

  • A study in The Lancet uses brain scans showing the connection between stress and heart problems. The study showed that people with increased activity in the amygdala (the area of the brain responsible for the perception of emotions) had more inflammation in their arteries and bone marrow. Up to 5 years later, those whose amygdala showed consistently increased activity were 60% more likely to have a heart attack.
  • Another study showed the link between stressful life events and the risk of heart disease, finding that divorce significantly increased the risk of heart attack for both men and women.
  • Stress can even indirectly increase your risk of heart disease, as it leads to things such as poor sleep, smoking, drinking or binge eating – all shown to increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • Help yourself to outsmart your amygdala and reduce your risk with our top tips on lowering your stress levels.

1. Breathe

Focusing on your breathing when you start to feel stressed will actually re-direct your attention from what is making you stressed. When your focus is on your stressful thoughts, they are real to you, but when you consciously take your attention off them and focus on something else, they start to dissolve.

The American Heart Association state that breathing exercise help to manage stress and thus lower your risk of heart disease as a result.

2.Take a digital detox

Try to be present in the current moment and don’t use any free or quiet moment as a chance to check your phone. Our brains need natural rest periods throughout the day to recuperate from being stimulated all the time, adding unnecessary stress to our everyday lives.

3. Make a list

Try to write down a list of what generally makes you feel stressed so that you can figure out a solution and lessen the amount of low-level stress in your everyday life. For example, if figuring out what to cook for dinner everyday causes you stress, a solution might be to sit down on a Sunday and plan out your meals for the week so you don’t have to figure out daily what you’re going to cook.

4. Prioritise your To-Do lists

If you find yourself getting extremely stressed and feeling under a lot of pressure when it comes to getting things done on your To-Do list, try making two separate lists: One To-Do-Now list and one To-Do-Soon list (for less urgent tasks).

Using this method will eliminate the worry that you are going to forget something and will help you focus on the immediate tasks at hand rather than trying to focusing on all the tasks all at once.

5. Keep on moving

One of the best ways to minimise how stress affects you is to make sure you move every day (30 minutes per day is recommended where possible, doing so outdoors is an added bonus). This produces endorphins (the feel-good chemicals in your brain) and these help you feel calmer and sleep better.

6. Add more fun

The more you practice taking care of yourself and allowing yourself to have fun and enjoyable experiences, the less reactive you will be to stressors.

Have a think about the stressful aspects of your life and figure out how to make these things more enjoyable. Maybe this means listening to a podcast or audiobook you enjoy on your commute to work. See what works best for you.