Philippine Heart Month: 5 ways stress can harm your heart

Philippine Heart Month: 5 ways stress can harm your heart

MANILA, Philippines — This Love Month, the country observes not only Valentine's Day but also the National Heart Month.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, stress is among the prevailing emotional and mental states seen in many people. The US Centers for Disease Control said that stress can cause the following: feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration; changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests; difficulty concentrating and making decisions; difficulty sleeping or nightmares; physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes; worsening of chronic health problems; worsening of mental health conditions and increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances.

Dr. Alejandro Ramon Prieto, from the Cardiology section of Makati Medical Center, said that stress is part of everyday life. As mentioned in several studies, stress has compounded everyday worries that many had before the pandemic.

Dr. Prieto said that is important to deal with pressure and cut stress triggers before "they heavily affect your heart."

He shared that there are five ways stress affects the heart, a concern that is timely as February is known as the Philippine Heart Month.

1. Adrenalin and cortisol are released due to stress.

These stress hormones regulate heart rate and blood pressure as well as how the body uses carbohydrates, proteins and fat. These also increase blood sugar.

“Constant stress keeps your cortisol levels up, which results in headaches, anxiety, trouble sleeping and digestion problems,” Dr. Prieto pointed out. “It also elevates blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, which are common risk factors of heart disease.”

2. Stress triggers plaque buildup and plaque rupture.

Dr. Prieto said studies reveal that people who have survived a natural disaster or those whose jobs require them to work long, grueling hours are more likely to develop fatty plaques in their blood vessels.

“When the plaque breaks and creates blockages elsewhere, this makes them prone to stroke or heart attack,” he warned.

3. Stress affects blood clots

Dr. Prieto noted that stress also affects the way your blood clots. He explained that the blood's consistency becomes thicker when one is stressed, making one vulnerable to heart attack or stroke.

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4. Stress can affect blood circulation

“Stress can trigger poor blood flow to the heart muscle, thus depriving the heart of oxygen and blood,” the cardiologist explained.

5. Stress leads to poor lifestyle 

Finally, stress also leads to unhealthy habits such as chainsmoking, drinking alcohol and stress-eating.

“Stress tends to make us behave in ways that increase our risk of heart disease,” said Dr. Prieto.

He underscored that while stress will always be there, it can be managed.

How to manage stress

1. Eat right.

Choose food low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and refined sugar to lessen the risk of heart disease.

Related: WATCH: Know your fats: Doctor spells difference between good vs bad

“Instead of sugary drinks, opt for a calming cup of green or black tea, which is linked to lower rates of heart attack,” Dr. Prieto said.

He recommended eating fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines, which contain omega-3 fatty acids that interact with mood-related brain molecules and are also good for the heart.

One can also munch on peanuts like almonds, pistachio and walnuts that help lower blood pressure. When eaten in moderation, dark chocolate is good since it is rich in flavonoids, which are compounds that help reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease.

2. Sweat it out.

Exercise is the ultimate anti-stress buster. Dr. Prieto explained that it releases mood-elevating endorphins. It also lowers blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Exercises such as dancing, running and brisk walking keep one fit and maintain one's ideal weight. Take regular breaks in between work and move around and do some in-place exercises.

3. Sleep more

Sleep allows the body to restore and recharge, playing a key role in nearly all aspects of physical health. Insufficient or fragmented sleep can contribute to problems with blood pressure and heighten the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes and stroke.

As a result, getting good sleep may help prevent damage to the cardiovascular system, and for people with heart problems, can be part of following a heart-healthy lifestyle.

4. Meditate

“Simply sitting down in a quiet spot and taking, slow deliberate breaths using your diaphragm can soothe frayed nerves,” Dr. Prieto said.

Other forms of meditation include yoga and prayer. Not only can meditation improve in coping with stress; regular practice can also motivate one to maintain heart-healthy behaviors like following healthy eating habits, making time for exercise and getting adequate sleep.

5. Find stress-relieving solutions

Join in on the "plantito/plantita" craze. Gardening has been seen as a relaxing pastime.

Read a book that has long been waiting to be opened or listen to music.

Dr. Prieto suggested to engage in activities or hobbies that can help unwind, maintain a positive outlook or change the mood from bad to good.

“Whatever it is, be sure that it brings you joy!"