Scientists may not entirely understand the relationship between stress and heart disease, but if you have ever experienced great worry, fear, aggravation or loss, you know your rising blood pressure and the literal heart ache you feel in your chest is real.
Medical researchers don't know for sure how stress increases heart disease risks. Scientific evidence suggests that environmental factors and psycho-social factors such as loneliness, personality and job stress are to blame.
What researchers do know is that there are short and long term relationships between stress and heart disease.
When your body is in stress response mode powerful hormones flood your body.
Adrenaline and cortisol alter how the body normally works so it can better respond to perceived danger. Your heart pumps harder, blood vessels constrict and clotting increases.
Occasional stress does not cause problems for a healthy heart.
Chronic stress with its continuous hormone assaults and demands on your cardiovascular system can create a recipe for damaged arteries and blood vessels.
Another possible factor linking stress and heart disease is that stressed-out people tend to have unhealthy habits. They are likely to smoke, eat unhealthy foods, eat too much in general, and lose sleep. They may anger easily and are far less likely to exercise.
Sometimes a stress event affects us so powerfully that it can cause immediate heart damage. Broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, causes symptoms of heart pain much like a heart attack.
According to the British Medical Journal, there is a 20 percent increase in heart attacks as people returned to work on Monday after a weekend off.
High blood pressure is associated with a greater risk of heart attack and stroke.
A Japanese study showed that many workers have much higher blood pressure when returning to work on Monday.
Even though medical research acknowledges that blood pressure rises during times of stress, it has yet to prove a direct connection between a stressful event and long-term high blood pressure.
Personally, I have known several people who suffered from prolonged high blood pressure after unresolved emotional issues. The connection was undeniable. When either their response or the situation resolved, so did their blood pressure problem.
Despite being on seven medications for uncontrolled high blood pressure, one woman suffered over 30 years. When I asked her when it started she described feelings of anger when her first husband died, leaving her with three teenagers.
Obviously, even after being happily remarried with now adult children, her body was either still holding onto the heart ache and trauma, or the damage was permanent. Regardless, her blood pressure was "through the roof".
My own stress blood pressure connection came to light when I was hooked up to a blood pressure monitor before a few medical procedures. Even though I was not aware of feeling nervous, my pressure climbed as the time for the procedures got closer.
It is so common for people to have higher blood pressure in a doctor's office that this phenomenon has been dubbed white coat syndrome.
As well as being responsible for pumping blood through the entire body, the heart is also an emotional center. As emotions rage and stress levels soar, chest or heart pain may result.
Sometimes this pain is more severe and feels like a heart attack. As muscles tighten in the chest and throughout the body from stress, blood pressure rises and chest pains may result. The heart may be affected, or the pain could just be coming from chest muscles.
Each year, many people visit emergency rooms because of unexplained chest pains. A study from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, indicated that anxiety, depression, stress at work, and lack of exercise are common causes.
If you have unexplained chest or heart pain, and/or shortness of breath, seek medical attention.
Broken heart syndrome is most common in menopausal women. It can occur within minutes of unexpected, severe stress such as loss of a loved one or a car accident.
The chest or heart pain is due to weakened heart muscle. Symptoms mimic a heart attack without the characteristic clot or blockage.
The heart usually heals completely within days. In the meantime, you could suffer from low blood pressure, congestive heart failure or a deadly arrhythmia.
To reduce risking problems related to stress and heart disease, take steps to manage stress in your life. Help your mind and body focus on repair instead of reacting to stress and creating further damage.
Protect your heart before and during times of heart ache and distress with stress relief techniques.
It may also help to increase your intake of muscle relaxing magnesium. Stress depletes calming magnesium, a mineral most people are already deficient in.