Having too much stress, for too long, is bad for your heart and overall health. And if you don't have good ways to manage it, you are more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), chest pains or irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia).

"Stress raises your blood pressure, and it isn't good for your body to constantly be exposed to stress. Stress is also linked to increased risks of heart attacks (myocardial infarction) and strokes," explains Clinical Assistant Professor Lee Phong Teck, Consultant from the Department of Cardiology at National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

Not only is stress harmful to your health, the methods you choose to manage stress also matters. If you respond to it in unhealthy ways, such as by smoking, overeating and being physically less active, it worsens the condition.

10 Top ways to manage stress

Don’t let stress beat you, use it as a motivator to care for your body! Start with simple steps first – the key is consistency, then build from there. These tips include:

  1. Exercise regularly – It relieves stress, tension, anxiety and depression. Consider a nature walk, meditation or yoga.

  2. Eat healthier – Don’t damage your body further by putting junk into it. Help it to recover better by eating healthy. The HPB My Healthy Plate is a good example to follow.

  3. Make time for friends and family – Maintain social connections and have talks with people you trust.

  4. Get sufficient sleep – Adults need seven to nine hours a night.

  5. Maintain a positive attitude and laugh more! (Yes, it’s ok to laugh at yourself)

  6. Practice mindful meditation and deep breathing relaxation techniques. There’s a good one for you to try here!

  7. Unplug – With virtually everything fitting in the palm of your hand these days, stress literally follows you everywhere so make time to escape from the world (even if it’s for an hour a day). Doing it before your sleep is definitely a good sleep habit to have, here's why.

  8. Find a stimulating yet healthy hobby that can be fun and distracts you from negative thoughts.

  9. Learn to say no to things that add additional stress to your life. Instead, make time to do things that help reduce anxiety.

  10. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help, especially if you have other risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity or high blood pressure.

We have more stress-busting techniques here.

Worst ways to manage stress

The worst thing you can do to yourself is to damage your body further by adopting negative behaviours to cope with stress such as:

  • Smoking

  • Unhealthy eating – Either overeating and consuming comfort foods that are high in fat and cholesterol, or skipping meals

  • Not being physically active

  • Drinking alcohol beyond the recommended amounts

  • Being overweight

  • Not taking medications as prescribed

How excessive stress impacts the body

Stress increases plaque instability, leading to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It makes platelets sticky and prone to forming clots, which can block these arteries. Stress can also cause arteries to constrict, starving the heart of nourishing blood and triggering chest pain or a heart attack.

It has also been suggested that stress triggers inflammation, a known instigator of heart disease, which in turn is linked to factors such as high blood pressure and lower “good” HDL cholesterol.

Common physical symptoms of having too much stress include:

  • Chronic aches and pains

  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping (insomnia)

  • Changes in appetite (either losing appetite or overeating)

  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking

  • Reduced libido

  • Stomach or digestive problems

  • Weakened immune system, leading to frequent illness

Excessive stress can also give rise to mental health conditions such as:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Anger

To know when to seek help for anxiety and depression, and how to manage it, read this article.

Ref: J22

Check out other articles on heart health :

5 Ways to Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

10 Superfoods for Your Heart

Best Exercises to Keep Your Heart Healthy