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Reduce Stress To Protect Your Heart

In extreme cases, stress can cause an unusual form of heart attack called broken heart syndrome, or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Unlike typical heart attacks, the condition is triggered by extreme emotions and stress, creating a surge of hormones that weaken the heart.

Among the types of events that might trigger it: the loss of job, an unexpected relocation, divorce, or an intense argument with a close friend or family member. The condition is usually temporary, with the heart recovering within a few months.

Stress also can cause high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The extra force of blood pumping through your arteries can cause damage over time, impacting blood flow to your body and creating the potential for potentially life-threatening ruptures, or aneurysms.

Coronary artery disease can occur when those narrowed arteries restrict blood flow to your heart, leading to an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or heart attack. The heart can become strained, increasing the risk for heart failure. And when your heart is forced to work harder, it can cause enlargement of the lower left heart chamber (left ventricle), which increases the risk for heart attack and heart failure.

Reacting to Stress

The way you react to stress can also have a negative effect on your heart health. When people get stressed, they often turn to unhealthy habits. They are more likely to tear open a pack of cigarettes or uncork a bottle of wine, for example.

And when people start “stress eating,” they don’t tend to reach for carrots and celery. Instead, they want something that causes a release of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone that gives a sense of pleasure. Grabbing a candy bar or doughnut can trigger the release of a large amount of dopamine into your brain. The relief is immediate.

The cost, however, may be felt down the road. Smoking, drinking too much and eating dopamine-release foods can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension.

Coping with Stress

One of the most effective ways to deal with stress is through meditation. Research suggests that “mindfulness-based stress reduction” can be just as effective as commonly prescribed antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications.

You should try to spend 10 minutes a day focusing on your breathing and blocking thoughts from your mind. Find a time during your day when you can slip into a quiet space (it could be ins your car, before heading into work) for this alone time.

Other strategies to consider:

Exercise: 30 minutes of brisk exercise every day can help relief stress.

Find a buddy: Turning your exercise routine into a social event with a friend, coworker or family member can keeo both of you committed.

Watch your diet: Avoid junk food in favor of a well-balanced diet. You can protect your body’s cells with foods high in antioxidants (tea, beans, tomatoes and blueberries). And you can boost your immune system with vitamin-rich foods, like citrus, bell peppers and garlic.

Me time: Don’t forget to set aside some time for yourself to read a book or listen to a podcast.

Use a journal: Keeping track of how you feel each day can help you figure out what’s triggering your stress.

Sleep well: A lack of quality sleep at night can lead to more stress.

Psychotherapy: A counselor can help you identify better ways to cope.

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