April is National Stress Month, which draws attention to the mental, physical, and emotional toll that stress can take. Mental health for adults living in Hawaiʻi has been among the best in the country, but the pressures of the past couple of years during the pandemic has resulted in increased levels of anxiety and depression. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, found that nearly 40 percent of adults in Hawaiʻi have reported anxiety or depression.
Everyone will feel overwhelmed and tense at varying degrees, but elevated levels for a long period of time can negatively impact your heart and overall health. This is known as chronic stress, which is consistent and occurs for days or weeks at a time.
“When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline that may cause rises in heart-rate levels and blood pressure,” says The Queen’s Health Systems Cardiologist Dr. Zia Khan. “Chronic stress is related to heart attacks, heart failure, and heart rhythm problems. It also often increases poor health behaviors, including overeating and an unhealthy diet, sedentary behavior and not exercising, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. These behaviors can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.”
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but how you respond makes a big difference to the impact it takes on your heart. The American Heart Association notes that positive mental health is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. People are more likely to have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, two of the top risk factors for cardiovascular issues.
Healthy ways to manage and reduce stress levels include:
- Sleep: Develop good habits and aim to sleep for about eight hours each night.
- Relaxation: Practice meditation, take deep breaths, or do yoga.
- Exercise: Get physically active for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Balanced Diet: Make healthy food choices with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on your plate.
- Social Connections: Invest in and spend quality time with your ʻohana.
Dr. Khan recommends, “start small and make changes in the morning. For example, eat a healthy breakfast and then go for a walk to start your day. These small changes add up daily and they matter in the investment of your heart-health.”
It is also important to continue with routine preventative healthcare and visit your doctor during stressful times. A dedicated healthcare team can note any changes to your medical health and identify resources to manage stress and lead a heart-healthy lifestyle.