Knowing how stress can affect your health may give you more reasons to learn how to de-stress.

When you’re under stress, you’re more likely to overeat, smoke, drink alcohol or engage in other unhealthy habits. This may be one reason stress has been linked to heart disease.

Stress is linked to insomnia, digestive problems, rashes, hives and other skin conditions, breakdowns in the immune system, depression and emotional distress.

More research is needed to determine how stress contributes to heart disease, the leading killer of Americans. But stress may affect behaviors and factors that are proven to increase heart disease risk: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.

How Your Heart Reacts to Stress

Here’s what researchers believe:

  • Chronic stress creates unhealthy levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Constant release of stress hormones can raise your heart rate as well as your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Cortisol appears to play a role in the accumulation of belly fat, which creates a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • Stress can worsen other heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
  • High levels of stress tend to aggravate behaviors such as overeating and smoking, putting your heart at risk.
  • Some studies link stress to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of a heart attack.

The bottom line? Stress isn’t healthy. If you’re stressed out, chances are your heart is, too.