Read more about AFib and stress in this article. Our modern world continually seems to be adding sources to our day-to-day lives. And while we all know that chronic stress has a negative impact on our health, for many of my patients living with atrial fibrillation, it is common for them to blame the condition on their stress. While stress definitely plays a role in the severity and frequency of AFib symptoms, it is also important to note that there are many other risk factors to developing this disease, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and family history.
Here is everything I want you to know about atrial fibrillation and stress:
Stress and the Heart
During periods of intense stress from our professional or personal life, we have all felt that familiar sense of chest tightness and anxiety. While this form of short-term stress is not likely to cause any significant damage to your heart function, long-term exposure to stress is a different story.
Chronic high-stress levels cause our hearts to work in overdrive to meet our metabolic needs. Studies have shown that as our brains perceive increased amounts of emotional stress, we increase our risk of experiencing profound cardiac events like heart attacks and strokes. Long-term stress also puts you at risk for developing high blood pressure, a common precursor to the development of atrial fibrillation.
Can Stress Cause Atrial Fibrillation?
So I’m stressed out all the time — is that the reason why I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation?
Despite the impact that stress can have on our cardiac health, generally, stress is not considered to be a primary risk factor for developing atrial fibrillation. While stress does cause additional strain on the muscles of the heart, it is much more likely that other health factors like lifestyle habits, high blood pressure, genetics, and other medical conditions play a larger role in the development of the disease.
That being said, living with high levels of untreated stress will not have a positive impact on your overall cardiac health, which in turn can increase your risk of developing common heart conditions, such as atrial fibrillation. Being mindful of your stress is truly essential to keeping yourself and your heart as healthy as possible.
AFib and Stress: Does Stress Trigger AFib Episodes?
During periods of profound stress, you are less likely to be providing your body with the correct tools and resources to live a healthy lifestyle. Late nights at work, poor food choices, and over-indulging in negative coping mechanisms can all lead to more severe and more frequent AFib episodes.
For people already diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, understanding the connection between chronic stress and severe AFib episodes is essential.
Stress increases the severity of your AFib symptoms by:
Increasing your risk of having heart palpitations
Elevating your blood pressure and resting heart rate
Negatively impacting your sleep quality
Increasing the likelihood of consuming excess alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs
Reducing your motivation to cook and eat nutritious meals
But if you could wave a magic wand and remove 100% of the sources of stress in your life, would your AFib episodes go away completely? The answer is likely no. Because atrial fibrillation is a complex medical condition that is often brought on by a multitude of pre-existing medical conditions, removing stress alone would not cure the disease completely.
But, with that being said, finding ways to reduce your stress levels has been proven to have a positive impact on the health of patients living with AFib, and can reduce symptoms of atrial fibrillation.
How Reducing Stress Can Improve Your AFib Symptoms
We all know that stress has a negative impact on our overall health — so why is it rarely talked about in a medical setting? If you go to see a medical professional about a health condition, they are very likely going to present options that are symptom-based, like medications and surgical procedures. While these options are a valuable piece to the overall treatment plan of managing atrial fibrillation, there are other holistic options to improve your symptoms in a less invasive way.
In a study done in 2015, it was found that AFib patients who were instructed to participate in a daily practice of yoga (a mindfulness low impact exercise known for its ability to calm the body and mind) reported fewer atrial fibrillation symptoms. In addition to having less frequent AFib episodes, they also experienced significant decreases in their resting heart rate and blood pressure levels. Similar findings were found in a 2013 study, where at the end of the study, the yoga participants showed a significant reduction in symptomatic AFIb episodes, lower anxiety scores, and improved blood pressure.
It is not the stress itself that can trigger AFib, but the way that your body responds to stress that becomes the issue. Learning helpful tricks to regulate your body and your emotions during stressful times can help to reduce the severity of your AFib symptoms.
Ways to reduce your chronic stress include:
Practicing mindfulness through meditation
Trying low impact exercises like yoga, walking, or tai chi
Prioritizing your sleep schedule
Reducing your workload if possible
Taking time to practice acts of self-care
Cooking nutritious meals
How To Reverse Atrial Fibrillation Naturally
If you are interested in natural treatment options for atrial fibrillation and are highly motivated in improving your symptoms naturally, to reduce your need for medications or even procedures, then take a look at my one-of-a-kind, online educational program, Take Control Over AFib.
Lifestyle modifications and reducing inflammation are essential components of the long-term management of atrial fibrillation. Addressing the source cause of atrial fibrillation can lead to a significant benefit for most AFib patients. Targeted lifestyle modifications can reduce your symptoms, reduce your reliance on medications or procedures, and even improve the long-term success rate of a catheter ablation procedure for AFib. However, most patients are not given instructions or tips on how to accomplish these essential lifestyle modifications in an AFib targeted style.
This is exactly why I created the Take Control Over AFib Program, to give people a step-by-step plan to improve and potentially reverse atrial fibrillation naturally.
Thinking about lifestyle modifications is easy, but putting in place a system to keep you committed to achieve real results takes time and dedication, and with my step-by-step plan, we can achieve powerful and long-lasting results together.
Putting It Altogether
While stress plays a major role in our day-to-day lives, it is likely not the primary cause of your diagnosis of atrial fibrillation. But, understanding that high levels of stress can lead to worse health outcomes and increased risk for more severe AFib episodes is essential for finding more natural and holistic ways to approach the management of atrial fibrillation. I have seen stress reduction techniques significantly improve symptoms of AFib for several of my patients.