All of us perceive various events, occasions, situations, and even individuals, as being stressful. If you have ever given a speech in front of hundreds of people, have ridden the world's highest roller coaster, or have watched a scarey movie, you have more than likely experienced stress. Whenever your brain receives messages that you are in potential danger (or under stress), your brain signals neurohormonal chemicals, like adrenaline or epinephrine, to give you the energy to either stay and face your fear (or deliver your speech) or get out of the situation as quickly as possible ("fight" or "flight" syndrome).
Neurohormonal chemicals cause the following mechanisms to occur in your body: increased heart rate and blood pressure (producing more blood volume), constriction of the blood vessels in your arms and legs (diverting blood to go to your vital organs), and higher respiratory rate (getting more oxygen to your lungs).
These sudden, transient episodes of surging neurohormones can get you out of a stressful situation and may even be life-saving. Unfortunately, with heart failure, the brain is constantly receiving messages that the body is under stress, and thusly, the body is under a constant seige of those neurohormonal chemicals. When your heart has to work harder (by beating faster and stronger) it can get tired quicker, much like your arms can by lifting weights, or your legs can when you've run a marathon. With heart failure, it is optimal to make the work of your heart as easy as possible; however, when extra stress is placed upon your heart, you may not have the reserve to meet the need, or your heart muscle may be weakened further by the stressor.
Avoiding stress in your life is challenging but crucial, because of the deliterious effects of stress on the heart. It is important to manage your stress and to develop healthy coping styles. Talk to your health care team of providers for suggestions or referrals for stress management classes. It is also very important to receive influenza and pneumococcal vaccines, since getting the flu or coming down with pneumonia or bacterial infections are huge stressors to your body.