Ease the Stress of a Heart Condition

From the WebMD Archives

A heart condition such as atrial fibrillation, heart failure, high blood pressure, or even high cholesterol can be a source of worry. And that could become a problem.

"It can be a vicious cycle," says N.A. Mark Estes, MD, director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Center at Tufts University School of Medicine. "Stress can make heart conditions worse."

Hormones your body makes in response to stress can play a role in causing inflammation in your arteries that could be dangerous. Stress also raises your risk for diabetes.

You may even be feeling stressed about being stressed. That leads some people to try to handle their anxiety in unhealthy ways, such as drinking too much, overeating, or smoking.

"Trying to prevent stress completely doesn't usually work, since life just gets stressful sometimes," says Gordon Tomaselli, MD, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Instead, he suggests finding ways to deal with it when it happens.

Move Your Muscles

Experts are unanimous: Exercise is one of the best things you can do for a heart condition. Not only does it improve your physical health, it also can improve your mood and cut stress, Estes says.

How much do you need? Aim for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week of moderately intense activity. Take a brisk walk, swim, bike, or do just about anything that gets your heart going. But since you have a heart condition, check with your doctor before you start a new workout routine.

Try Active Relaxation

Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and deep breathing are all good options. "If you find an approach that gives you satisfaction and lowers your stress, stick with it," Tomaselli says.

Reach Out to Friends and Family

People you love are some of the best stress-busters you have. Give yourself a break. Just have some fun. Share a laugh and good company.

Do Something New

Feeling stressed out and sick can put you in a rut. Push yourself outside the norm to change your outlook.

  • Visit a museum or see a local play.
  • Go to a restaurant you haven't been to before.
  • Listen to a different style of music.
  • Spend time outdoors. Read on a park bench.
  • Take a foreign language class.


Help Others

When you're feeling worried and unwell, helping others can take your mind off your troubles and give you a refreshing lift.

Get Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep seems to raise levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of restful shut-eye a night.

Avoid Triggers

Take a pass on the situations, and the people, that you know stress you out. Spend time with those who help you feel calm and happy. Put yourself in situations that engage you.

Ask for Help

If you think your stress is getting in the way of your life, talk with someone you're comfortable with, or consider seeing a therapist. Airing your concerns with a sympathetic ear can help you discover new ways to approach your problems.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on February 12, 2014



American Heart Association: "Fight Stress With Healthy Habits."

American Psychological Association: "Stress in the Workplace."

N. A. Mark Estes, MD, director, Cardiac Arrhythmia Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston; spokesperson, American Heart Association.

National Sleep Foundation: "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?" "Sleep, Athletic Performance, and Recovery."

Gordon Tomaselli, MD, chief, division of cardiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.

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