It may be just a bit of an understatement to say that the COVID-19 has caused some unwelcome disruptions to our day-to-day lives. Our routines have been drastically altered in the past few months, with most of us spending more time than ever cooped up at home. In addition to losing what were once ordinary activities like going to the gym or restaurants, we’re spending more time than ever either alone, or in close quarters with others. These changes are bound to affect your mood, and it’s completely normal to be feeling higher levels of emotional stress, anxiety, or depression during the social distancing period.
For many people, these increased feelings of emotional distress may lead to an increased need for self-medicating through the use of alcohol. In the first month of quarantine, liquor sales spiked enormously in the United States. For people who already deal with depression or anxiety disorders, or for those who have struggled with alcoholism in the past and now find themselves cut off from their usual support system, the temptation to respond to these stressors accompanying the coronavirus pandemic by drinking excessively can be difficult to ignore.
While having a drink once in a while to reduce stress or take the edge off is fine from a health perspective, drinking excessively can have a really negative impact on your heart health.
How Does Stress Affect Your Heart?
The exact nature of the relationship between stress and heart health has not been clearly established. However, it is clear that stress can be, at the very least, an indirect risk factor for heart disease and other cardiovascular issues. Stress may affect your ability to get a restful night’s sleep, impairing your body’s function and leaving you feeling drained. Stressful situations trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response, releasing adrenaline and elevating the heart rate. If stress is continuous over a long period of time, you may be constantly living in a heightened state which can put undue strain on your heart.
It is also clear that stress can negatively affect the lifestyle choices you make. Being stressed out and sleep-deprived makes you less likely to exercise and more likely to reach for unhealthy foods, smoke cigarettes, and drink excessively.
What Does Alcohol Do to Your Heart?
Drinking in moderation is generally fine, and some studies indicate that a glass of wine once a day might actually have some health benefits. However, drinking a large amount of alcohol on a regular basis can contribute to a whole host of heart conditions, including high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, and irregular heartbeat which increases your risk of potentially fatal blood clots or stroke.
The calories contained in alcohol are also a factor which may compromise your cardiovascular health. The average beer contains between 100 and 150 calories, which means that drinking five beers in a sitting is roughly the caloric equivalent of eating five hot dogs in the same amount of time. High caloric intake increases your risk of obesity and diabetes, which can wreak severe consequences on your heart health.
Healthier Ways to Manage Stress
While binge drinking is not a healthy way to deal with the stress and anxiety of quarantine, those feelings are real, and it’s important not to ignore them. The key is finding a way to alleviate the strain on your mental health in a way that does not negatively affect your physical health. This can be as simple as getting enough exercise – working out everyday releases endorphins, which promote a sense of overall well-being. Regular exercise is also critical to maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, a foundational practice for cultivating a healthy mind.
You Don’t Have to Suffer Alone!
Feelings of isolation and loneliness are completely natural during the social distancing period. Make sure to stay in touch with your support system as much as possible. Make a regular habit of calling friends and family on the phone or video chat. Talk therapy may also help – many therapists are offering phone or video conference appointments to offer support during the pandemic. If you struggle with dependence on alcohol, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Know Your Risk – Screenings at Manhattan Cardiology
If you have been drinking more than usual during quarantine, it’s important to be aware of how it’s affecting your body. Manhattan Cardiology offers screenings for high blood pressure, stroke, and cholesterol, all corollary concerns with regard to alcohol’s impact on your heart health.