Stress is something we all experience every day to varying degrees, and we all handle our stress differently. Some of us explode like volcanoes after we let things brew for a while. Some might react straight away and become angry. Some might shut down and withdraw entirely; while others still will be a "cool cat" and remain cool, calm and collected. The way we react to stress varies, as does the effect it can have on our physical health. While the effects of stress on our physical health is not entirely understood, we do know that it can lead to the development of physical conditions such as heart disease (including high blood pressure and cholesterol risk), diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, ulcers, etc. Our focus in this blog will be on stress and heart disease since it's the leading cause of death in both men and women in Australia.
The National Heart Foundation lists 9 main risk factors that can contribute to the development of heart disease. One of the 9 listed is Mental Health, with the others listed as Smoking, Alcohol, Diet, Physical Activity, Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, Diabetes, and Obesity. Sadly, the ongoing recognition of the importance of Mental Health on heart disease has taken some time to gain traction. While we have fantastic programs in place to ensure that diet and exercise are well maintained, we do not have as much of a focus to maximise mental health in preventing heart disease.
When referring to the importance of looking after mental health to minimise the effects of heart disease, The National Heart Foundation state that Depression and heart disease have a cyclical relationship, with one continually reinforcing the other and vice-versa. The "nitty-gritty" on how the relationship works is not well known, however it's understood that the sedentary lifestyle that comes with Depression, as well as other unhelpful behaviours (e.g., over-eating, under-eating, smoking, alcohol use, drug use, etc), contributes to the maintenance of Depression and increases the risk for heart disease.
Anxiety has also been listed as a mental heath condition which is correlated with the risk of heart disease. Once again, the exact nature of the relationship is not well understood, however the presence of Anxiety can often bring with it unhealthy and unhelpful lifestyle choices as for Depression, which can increase the risk for heart disease. In addition to this, the presence of excessive amounts of cortisol when enduring prolonged levels of stress can also increase the risk for heart disease.
Looking after our physical health can do wonders for our mental health, however when mental health becomes chronic or difficult to manage, it can be difficult managing our physical health in the first instance. For this reason, it is vital that we take the time to recognise our own personal stressors and warning signs that indicate the deterioration of our mental health and wellbeing. If you or a loved one is struggling with the stressors of daily life and are in need of managing stressors, then our clinicians can help. To make an appointment give us a call on (03) 9882-8874.
Until next time - Dr Celin Gelgec and the Team at Melbourne Wellbeing Group.