Feeling burned out, cranky, and tired all the time isn’t just an awful way to live. It might also be bad for your heart.
A new study found that being burned out increases the risk for a common heart rhythm problem, called atrial fibrillation, or A-fib. With A-fib there is a glitch in the heart’s electrical system that makes the heart beat unevenly. It may beat too fast, too slow, or all over the place.
For Heart Month, we look at this common heart problem that affects more than 5 million people in the US.
The study followed more than 11,000 people ages 45-64 for an average of 23 years. None of the participants had A-fib when the study started. During the study period, some developed it. And it turned out that those who reported high levels of burnout were 20% more likely to get this heart problem than those who weren’t burned out.
Most everyone experiences burnout at one time or another. It’s caused by high stress that continues without a break. It can develop from things like a very demanding job, a difficult home life, or caring for someone who is sick. It can cause you to feel sad or depressed, exhausted, irritable, and/or hopeless.
A-fib is a problem because it can increase your risk for dangerous blood clots. Normally when things are working well, the heart’s 4 chambers contract in a normal rhythm and pump blood to the body efficiently. According to the American Heart Association, people with A-fib are also at risk for congestive heart failure.
But with A-fib, the contractions don’t have a normal pattern and the heart pumps the blood irregularly. That can allow blood to pool and create a blood clot. If a clot gets into and blocks a blood vessel, it can cause a stroke.
A-fib can feel like a fish is flopping in your chest; your heart skips beats, or it races when you get up out of a chair. As people age, their risk for A-fib rises.
What’s the connection between burnout and heart rhythm? Burnout is a form of chronic stress, which can lead to increased inflammation in the body. And inflammation can harm the heart and blood vessels, leading to problems like A-fib. (For more information on the effects of inflammation on your body, go to KnowYourRisk).
In addition, when a person is experiencing burnout, they may not take care of themselves as they normally would. Unhealthy practices like eating poorly, not exercising, smoking, and drinking heavily can add to A-fib risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
To avoid mental exhaustion, try to lower your stress. Instead of turning to junk food and alcohol when you’re feeling under pressure, try yoga, tai chi, or meditation. Get plenty of exercise and sleep. Seek quiet in nature. Stop smoking. Eat a healthy diet. And be sure to make plenty of time for friends and family members who support you.
These lifestyle measures can also help you prevent A-fib—during Heart Month and in the future. With proper care, you can lower your risk for burnout and A-fib, keeping your heart in a healthy rhythm.