How does Stress Contribute To Heart Disease Risk?

Feeling stressed? It’s your body’s normal response to challenging situations. When stressed, your brain makes hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol provides energy by releasing sugar into your blood, and adrenaline prepares you for ‘fight or flight’ by revving up your heart rate, breathing, and blood flow, preparing you to handle and cope with the stress.

Persistent stress can increase your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure (BP), diabetes, and unhealthy behaviours like poor eating habits. However, you can combat chronic stress through exercise, relaxation techniques, sleep, and social support. Don’t let stress harm your health; instead, find healthy ways to manage it and keep your heart strong.

Chronic Stress and Your Heart

Living with constant stress can damage your heart. Several studies have revealed that chronic stress may amplify your odds of getting cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, and even death. It may also promote cardiomyopathy, which weakens the heart muscle.

Research shows prolonged stress is tied to poor heart health in several ways – major life events, workplace stress, loneliness, or childhood trauma, etc. When you’re stressed, your body churns out hormones like cortisol and adrenaline over and over. It leads to inflammation in arteries, raising the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

How Stress Damages Arteries

Studies show that when you’re stressed for a long time, it activates your amygdala. That’s the part of your brain that controls emotions and fear.

A stressed amygdala is linked to inflammation in your arteries, which is not good for you. This artery inflammation increases your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and other scary cardiovascular problems.

Stress causes a surge of hormones like cortisol, and these hormones make your bone marrow produce more white blood cells, which creates damaging inflammation in the arteries.

Stress Worsens Other Heart Risk Factors

Stress doesn’t just directly harm your arteries – it also worsens other risk factors for heart disease. Studies show prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure and diabetes, two major risk factors for the heart.

When you’re stressed, your body pumps out stress hormones like cortisol. This can result in developing high blood pressure. Stress also triggers the release of glucose into your bloodstream, raising your risk for diabetes.

In addition, stress often impacts heart-healthy behaviours. People struggling with high stress levels tend to exercise less and reach for unhealthy comfort foods that pack on pounds. They may drink more alcohol to unwind, light up cigarettes to calm down, or skip taking important heart medications.

Stress even impacts what you choose to eat. Research reveals high stress is linked to making less nutritious food choices and weight gain.

Managing Stress to Protect Your Heart

You can’t avoid all stress, but you can take steps to lower your stress levels and protect your heart. The good news is there are many effective stress-busting techniques that can help you manage stress.

  • Regular exercise: Regular exercise is definitely a good thing for heart health and stress relief. Aim for 30 minutes of activity on most days, or whatever feels right for you. Try to take a brisk walk, try a yoga class to stretch it out, or dance around to fun music. Finding movement you enjoy is key to keeping your heart safe and healthy.
  • Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques also lower blood pressure and make you feel more calm. Try deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided meditation apps, mindfulness, and tai chi. You can also explore different options to see what suits you the best. Just around 5 to 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference in your life.
  • Hobbies and fun activities: Hobbies and fun activities are another easy way to beat stress. You could always read a good book, watch a comedy special, play with your pet, or dive into a craft project – do whatever boosts your mood.
  • Support group: Connecting with supportive friends and family helps you feel less alone. But if you can’t meet in person, stay in touch via text, phone calls, or video chats. Having people to share laughs makes a difference.
  • Adequate sleep: Prioritising restful sleep prevents fatigue from worsening stress. Aim for 7-9 hours per night by sticking to a bedtime routine that preps your body and mind for sleep.
  • Counselling: If self-care isn’t enough, talk to your doctor about counselling, support groups, or online therapy for extra help. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey; there are people to support you.

The key is trying different techniques to build a toolbox that works for you. By keeping chronic stress in check, you protect your heart and overall well being. 


Stress prepares your body to handle threats. However, chronic stress boosts your risk for heart disease and related events like stroke. Recent research shows links between stress, brain activity, and inflammatory artery changes. Along with worsening other risk factors like high blood pressure, stress also promotes unhealthy behaviours. Therefore, it is important to focus on stress-busting self-care to enhance your overall health and keep your heart strong.