Young parents and the toll of stress-related heart attacks: Causes and solutions
The news headlines constantly narrate stories of young parents falling victim to heart attacks. Health expert deconstructs this from a solution-centric lens
Stress-related heart attacks are a real concern for young parents who may be juggling multiple roles, such as caring for their children, managing their careers and handling financial pressures but the combination of these stressors, along with lifestyle factors like lack of exercise, poor diet and inadequate sleep, can increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Hence, the responsibilities and challenges of being a young parent can often lead to significant stress levels, which in some cases, can take a toll on their cardiovascular health.
According to health experts, stress activates the body's "fight or flight" response, triggering the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol but prolonged exposure to these hormones can lead to chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease. Additionally, stress can also contribute to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and overeating, further exacerbating the risk.
Young parents may face unique stressors related to parenting, such as sleep deprivation, financial strain and the emotional demands of raising children. Health experts point out that lack of sleep can disrupt hormonal balance, increase inflammation and negatively impact cardiovascular health while financial concerns can add to the burden, leading to chronic stress and potential detrimental effects on heart health.
Deconstructing this problem from a solution-centric lens in an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Ramakanta Panda, Heart Surgeon and Chairman at Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai, elaborated:
- Guilt - The societal shift to nuclear families comes with its own set of challenges, particularly for young fathers and mothers. To begin with is the guilt of abandoning their old parents to care-homes or paid help. This gnaws away at their conscience and adds a layer of guilt on their conscience. This, when coupled with the demands of work, parenting, financial obligations and personal well-being can prove to be overwhelming and, in some cases, life-threatening. The solution is to maintain healthy relationships with the extended family and support each other in all ways possible.
- A culture of needless competition - Instead of valuing the wealth of every person’s talent and individuality, we are in a crazy rut to chase monetary wealth and social norms of success. This is like asking a fish to climb a tree and can only result in stress. Excessive stress leads to the release of stress hormones , which if a person is exposed to over prolonged period, can elevate blood pressure, increase heart rate and promote inflammation within the blood vessels. These factors significantly contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of the arteries, which ultimately increases the risk of heart attacks. The solution is to define your own norms of success and celebrate your gift and what you bring to the world. It is also important to find hobbies and time with friends that keep your mind away from overthinking.
- Lack of support systems - In cities, you often find that neighbours do not know each other. Children spending time in each other's homes, group outings and picnics, celebrating festivals, exchanging favours and even fathers playing cricket together, are all standard features of simple semi-urban life. Having something pleasurable to look forward to, promotes overall well-being. A close circle of friends or a community like ‘art of living’ or ‘satsang’, can help prevent isolation and loneliness. A community that has shared values can increase your sense of belonging and purpose.
- Poor diets and habits - Where is the time to provide for and eat a balanced diet when both father and mother are busy working? The culture of ordering online, eating hyper-processed foods and not maintaining regular timings to eat food has reduced nutrition and played havoc with the internal systems including digestive system. Poor gut health leads to multiple complications in both the mind and the body. This, coupled with no time to exercise or focus on self-care, compromises heart health. A good solution would be to join a fitness group for any activity of your choice- such as running/yoga/gym and make time to cook fresh food at home.
Overall, helping young parents prioritise their time and allocate it efficiently between work, family and personal self-care like daily exercise, Yoga, eating healthy sleeping early and for 7-8 hours can alleviate stress and reduce their chances of heart attacks.