Stress and Heart Disease

Reviewed on 12/29/2022
Stress and Heart Disease
If left unmanaged, chronic stress can strain your heart and lead to physical problems that increase the risk of heart disease

Stress is a normal part of life. But if left unmanaged, chronic stress can strain your heart and lead to physical problems that increase the risk of heart disease, including: 

How can stress and anxiety damage your heart?

Medical researchers aren't exactly sure how stress increases the risk of heart disease. High levels of stress make other risk factors (such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure) worse. For example, if you are under stress, your blood pressure goes up, you may overeat, exercise less, and be more likely to smoke. Sleep deprivation caused by anxiety raises cortisol levels, and high cortisol levels have been linked to high blood sugar and weight gain, which are also risk factors for heart disease.

Suppose stress itself is a risk factor for heart disease. In that case, it could be because chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Studies also link stress to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of a heart attack.

Studies suggest that emotionally stressful and traumatic events have a negative impact on the mind and damage the heart. A recent study reported that stress-related mental disorders can raise the risk of heart attacks by 34%, stroke by 75%, and high blood pressure by more than 100%.

In some cases, you may not be able to notice the effects of stress on your heart. Even serious diseases such as high blood pressure, excessive hormone production, high cholesterol, and diabetes, may cause few to no symptoms. However, their long-term impact can cause significant damage to your health.

How do I know if stress is affecting my heart?

When you are exposed to long periods of stress, your body gives warning signals that something is wrong. These physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral warning signs should not be ignored. They tell you that you need to slow down. If you continue to be stressed and you don't give your body a break, you are likely to develop health problems like heart disease. You could also worsen an existing illness.

Warning signs and symptoms of stress
Physical signs Dizziness, general aches, and pains, grinding teeth, clenched jaws, headaches, indigestion, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, racing heart, ringing in the ears, stooped posture, sweaty palms, tiredness, exhaustion, trembling, weight gain or loss, upset stomach
Mental signs Constant worry, difficulty making decisions, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, lack of creativity, loss of sense of humor, poor memory
Emotional signs Anger, anxiety, crying, depression, feeling powerless, frequent mood swings, irritability, loneliness, negative thinking, nervousness, sadness
Behavioral signs Bossiness, compulsive eating, critical attitude of others, explosive actions, frequent job changes, impulsive actions, increased use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawal from relationships or social situations


Heart Disease: Symptoms, Signs, and Causes See Slideshow

Can emotional stress cause a heart attack?

Due to the strain on the heart, chronic stress can cause a heart attack.

However, in some cases, stress can cause stress-induced cardiomyopathy. With this condition, the heart can be physically overtaken by extreme emotions (grief, terror, or rage) which causes a flood of stress hormones in the body, triggering symptoms that mimic a heart attack or heart failure.

Symptoms of stress cardiomyopathy include:

In most cases, the symptoms are temporary. With treatment, complete recovery of heart function can be achieved within a few weeks. However, it can be fatal in rare cases.

Does stress affect everyone the same?

Stress affects everyone differently. 

Although women have a lower risk of developing heart diseases, especially during their reproductive ages, studies suggest that stress raises the risk of coronary heart disease in women by 21%

How to calm your heart

Reducing stress can be beneficial to your heart and protect you from other diseases associated with stress. Lifestyle changes can help calm your heart and reduce stress:

  • Exercise: Regular aerobic exercise can reduce stress, regulate mood, and enhance sleep. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week.
  • Eat healthy: When stressed, it can be tempting to reach for comfort foods high in fat. However, junk food can make you feel worse and increase your risk of heart disease. Avoid refined sugar, processed meat, and caffeine, and opt for fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Do something you enjoy: Find ways to engage in activities you enjoy that relax you and help you stay positive. Gardening, drawing, socializing, volunteering, and other hobbies are all great ways to relieve unwanted stress.
  • Spend time with loved ones: Having a social network has been linked to decreased stress levels, which leads to improved heart health.
  • Practice yoga or meditation: Yoga and meditation combine physical and mental exercises to help you calm your mind and relax your body, which can have significant health benefits.


In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

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