Stress: It’s not all in your head!

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 “I’m so stressed out,” is a common theme today. Ask why, and most people will point to another tragedy in the headlines, a work deadline, financial concerns, or ongoing family obligations. Life and its daily grind, as well as catastrophic events, leave us emotionally and physically drained.

Stress affects everyone at some point. But the kind of stress and the duration can have a significant impact on your overall health.

How does stress affect your body?

Stress, in general, triggers a number of bodily responses. These can have a direct and indirect impact on your overall health and also your cardiovascular health.

Acute stress is the kind that happens suddenly and all at once. A job loss, death in the family, or personal illness can wreak havoc on your emotional and physical well-being. The physical effects include changes in sleep patterns, upset stomach, headaches and muscle tension, as well as anxiety and depression depending on the individual. Research has linked depression and heart disease, and each can lead to the other.

Chronic stress, however, occurs over a longer period of time. It negatively affects your cardiovascular system by increasing your heart rate and constricting blood flow. Anyone who has experienced pressure at work coupled with the demands of carpooling the kids or caring for ailing parents know all about chronic stress. Often, we feel these situations are out of our control. Therefore, we endure them, thinking there is no solution.

If this goes on too long, it could lead to hypertension, commonly called high blood pressure. This can have a profound effect on all of your body, especially your cardiovascular system. Also, elevated levels of the stress hormones catecholamines can damage the heart. They increase the oxygen demand on the body, and lead to electrical instability in the heart.

This most often happens in an acute stress setting. A reaction that threatens the patient’s heart health can lead to a heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms, and even stroke.

There is a condition called takotsubo cardiomyopathy. It is more commonly referred to as “broken-heart syndrome” or stress-induced cardiomyopathy. It is the result of a rush of those stress hormones causing the heart to become dilated and leads to reduced heart function. This often occurs after a traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one. This could be a life-threatening event. Initially it can feel and look very similar to a heart attack.

How can you recognize signs of stress?

Acute stress is often easily recognizable. However, chronic stress can at times be difficult to recognize, as it can just seem to “become the norm.”  Recognizing common stress symptoms is the key to managing or

even eliminating them. While the cause of the stress most likely won’t suddenly disappear, we can take control of how we deal with stress. 

Learn the common signs of stress and how it is treated at UPMCPinnacle.com/Stress.