Workforce Wellness – Bon Secours


Stress and Your Heart

Dr. Christine Browning MD, MSHA, FACC

We all know stress is bad, but do you know just how bad it can be for your heart? When you are stressed, your body makes more of certain hormones that raise your blood pressure and heart rate and can lead to an increase in your risk for heart attack and stroke. Even worse, what do you do when you are stressed? You eat more, and are more likely to eat out–often fast, high-fat and unhealthy foods (when was the last time you were so stressed you reached for the carrots?). You sleep less, which further increases your body’s production of those harmful stress hormones. We are also much less likely to exercise and are more likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and down more caffeine. You may even forget to make your medicines, leading to even higher blood pressure and uncontrolled blood sugar.

All of these unhealthy behaviors, combined with the stress itself, wreak havoc on your health. In severe cases, stress has been shown to cause a “heart attack” in people without any other risk factors for heart disease. This is called the “broken heart syndrome” or Takotsubo’s cardiomyopathy: the arteries of the heart spasm, stopping blood flow to the heart muscle and causing heart injury and even heart failure.

We all know life is stressful, so what can we do about it?
Start by carving 30 minutes out of your day to exercise. Taking a walk, dancing to your favorite tunes, or going for a bike ride can help you de-stress immediately, lowering your blood pressure and bringing down your anxiety levels. Don’t over-schedule: you can only be in one place at one time, so review your to-do list and say “no” sometimes. Take a 5-minute relaxation break when you feel stressed: even deep breathing and guided imagery at your desk can help you relax and recharge. Go to bed a little earlier. Studies have consistently shown that people who sleep more than 7 hours a night live longer.

February is Heart Month, so join Bon Secours and start living a heart-healthy lifestyle today. For more information on how to take control of your health or to support the health of the people you love, visit

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