So much so, in fact, that cardiologists are recommending it as a method for reducing the risk of heart attacks for patients with mild to moderate coronary heart disease.
Healthspan Medical Director Dr Sarah Brewer says, ‘Some stress is good for us as it allows us to adapt to meet life’s challenges, but stress which takes us beyond our comfort zone is bad for the heart. Stress hormones constrict blood vessels and can cause spasm of coronary arteries. Prolonged stress leads to high levels of cortisol which can increase blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and makes the blood stickier which are all factors for heart disease’.
‘Stress can also lead to coping behaviours such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol which also have adverse effects on the heart and circulation. Researchers from University College London have found that people in demanding jobs, who do not have the freedom to make decisions, are 23% more likely to have a heart attack than those who did not report job strain’ .
Stress – whether you’re stuck in traffic, late for an appointment or have too much on your plate at work – can manifest itself in a surprising number of day-to-day situations and it’s learning to control how you deal with these situations that will help you to improve your heart health.
These three steps towards reducing your stress levels will help you on your way:
1. Take a deep breath
If you’re looking for a short-term fix for stress breathing is a good place to start. It sounds simple but taking the time to breathe deeply is incredibly beneficial for keeping your heart rate down and stress levels low. Breathing deeply ultimately helps to lower the production of the stress hormone cortisol and therefore keep you calm.
A recent study on meditation and it's linked to heart disease found completing fifteen minutes of meditating a day reduced the risk of heart disease and stroke by 48%. All you have to do is sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and repeat a sound in your head – otherwise known as a mantra - for the whole fifteen minutes and voila, you’ll feel fully relaxed afterwards.
3. Practice Mindfulness
In the long-term mindfulness – an ability to focus on the moment you are in – is a great way to reduce stress levels. Rather than dealing with the symptoms of stress mindfulness prevents us from getting unnecessarily stressed in the first place. Of course, living an entirely stress-free lifestyle is impossible considering the fast-paced world we live in today, but gaining a sense of perspective – which is part of learning how to be mindful - and therefore preventing unnecessary agitation will reduce the negative impact of stress on your health and wellbeing in the long run.
1Nordqvist, C. (2012). Work stress increases heart attack risk by 23%, Medical News Today
2BFH (no date). Can meditation help people with heart disease, British Heart Foundation (web)