Stress which is a normal part of life, has been raised exponentially owing to the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown. Social & emotional distancing, fear of contracting the disease, loss of near and dear ones, stress & loss of jobs, and drop in daily earnings have catered to the stressful life. Stress could also be attributed to physical factors such as inadequate sleep, an illness, work burnouts etc. However, stress has a significant impact on Heart health and could be deadly if not identified and treated on time.
As a result of stress, the body responds by releasing the hormone - Cortisol. High levels of Cortisol which would result from long term stress may increase Blood Sugar, Blood Pressure, Cholesterol and Triglycerides, all contributing risk factors for Heart Disease. Additionally, the build-up of plaque deposits in the arteries may also be a result of changes due to stress. Also, hormones produced by Adrenal Glands known as ‘Catecholamines’ are released as a reaction to stressful events, which causes an increase in Blood Pressure and is responsible for Heart Attacks and Heart Failure. Long term stress could affect blood clotting - the blood becomes stickier, thus increasing the risk of Stroke and Heart Attack.
COMBATING STRESS & PROTECTING YOUR HEART:
GET ADEQUATE EXERCISE:
Exercise will aid in counteracting the damaging effects of stress on the heart. It is recommended to aim for at least 30mins of exercise a day, for 5 days of the week to boost heart health. Exercise promotes cardiovascular health by helping manage weight, regulating cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Additionally, people who exercise have a reduced physical response to stress. Their blood pressure and heart rates don’t rise as opposed to people under stress who don’t exercise. Regular exercise can also decrease the risk of depression, another risk factor for Heart Disease.
TREAT DEPRESSION OR ANXIETY:
According to research, long term Anxiety or emotional stress can escalate the risk of sudden cardiac death. Seek medical treatment if you experience Depression or Anxiety, and ask about medicines that can help. Try activities like Yoga, walking and medication that reduces anxiety levels. Quit alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine as they can increase the feeling of Anxiety; they also increase stress levels and blood pressure.
EASE YOUR WORK STRESS:
Studies show that stress emerging from having a challenging and gruelling job can amplify your risk for Heart Disease. According to a report, the frequency of heart diseases in people under 40yrs of age, in the past three decades, has spiked dramatically, by almost about three times. The report also noted that Heart attacks in young Indians were noted to be 3-4 times higher than in the West! The authors attributed this increased risk to stress, which also made these youngsters look older than their age, because of working at odd hours and unhealthy eating habits.
Try to take some time away from work for yourself regularly. Do things like reading, walking, or a hobby. A counsellor may help recommend strategies to help you lower your work-related stress.
STAY CONNECT & BUILD A STRONG SUPPORT SYSTEM:
It is vital to stay in a socially connected group. With the lockdown imposed and travel restrictions in play, many people have stuck away from their near and dear ones. This has contributed immensely to the ongoing mental health hazard. Internet and other gadgets can help to stay connected in real-time with family and friends, which will help reduce stress. Indulge in a hobby through group classes like online forums, podcasts, group streaming etc. A lovable and robust support system will enable you to take better care of yourself. Having a single person to confide in and rely on will help take the burden of stress of your chest.
Seek help from experts to combat stress. They may recommend counselling, classes, or other programs to help you lower your stress level and your risk for Heart Disease.
With inputs from Dr Brajesh Kumar Kunwar, Director & Head-Interventional Cardiology, Hiranandani Hospital Vashi-A Fortis Network Hospital
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