It’s difficult not to get stressed in our fast-paced lives. Whether you’re working overtime, battling exams, or caring for a sick relative, chronic stress has become commonplace.
When we’re acutely stressed, the fight-or-flight system jumps into action, sending a surge of adrenaline through the body. This product of evolution dramatically increases our reaction speed and once allowed us to escape or fight a predator.
But our bodies are not designed to cope with ongoing activity of these stress pathways.
The psychological effects of stress – such as irritability, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping – are obvious to anyone who has been under pressure. But stress also has subtle, underlying effects on almost every part of the body, including the heart, gut and immune system.
Here are just three reasons to get your stress levels in check this year.
1. You’re at risk of a heart attack
When activated, the fight-or-flight system causes blood pressure to spike and redirects blood flow away from non-essential parts of the body and into the muscles.
Consistently high blood pressure or frequent spikes strain the coronary arteries serving the heart. Higher blood pressure with each beat causes arteries to slowly stiffen and become clogged, which impedes blood flow to the heart.
One study found people who were chronically stressed, either in their work or home life, were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack than those who weren’t.
Another effect of stress on the cardiovascular system is hyper-responsiveness. When a person is suffering low but persistent levels of stress, their response to an added source of stress is much more intense than normal, leading to larger spikes in heart rate and blood pressure.
Again, the increased blood pressure damages blood vessels and increases the chances of blockages and heart attacks.