Stress and Heart Disease

Stress is the mental, emotional, and physical reaction to negative experiences. Individuals who suffer episodic acute stress and chronic stress are most likely to suffer negative health consequences, including heart disease. An exact relationship between heart disease and stress has not been established with research, but people who do not effectively manage stress are more likely to maintain unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, overeating, and physical inactivity. Therefore, stress is considered a contributing factor for coronary artery disease. Interestingly, the most commonly reported “trigger” for a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting event, particularly one that involves anger. After a heart attack, patients with higher levels of stress and anxiety tend to have more trouble recovering.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress
Headaches
Grinding teeth
Chest pain Shortness of breath
High blood pressure
Muscle aches
Fatigue
Insomnia
Anxiety
Irritability
Depression
Feeling of insecurity
Sadness
Defensiveness
Anger
Hypersensitivity
Overeating
Loss of appetite
Impatience
Procrastination
Increased use of chemicals
Withdrawal or isolation
Poor job performance
Burnout
Change in relationships

Managing Stress
Everyone who experiences stress does not manage it effectively. Stress management depends on individual personality, coping mechanisms, lifestyle, job, and family situation. Ineffective coping leads to health problems over an extended period of time. People resort to unhealthy behaviors to temporarily relieve stress, including smoking, drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, using drugs, and eating too much junk food. These behaviors worsen stress and contribute to the negative risk factors associated with heart disease.

An effective approach to managing daily stress is to apply the “Three R’s”:

Recover.
Regain your sense of life balance and routine. Try a weekend getaway, go to a movie, exercise, or talk with a trusted friend or family member.

Refocus.
Step back and look at the big picture. Take the time to think about what has happened and get in touch with your feelings.

Regenerate.
Chronic stress can affect your health, so get extra rest, eat right, avoid alcohol and cigarettes, and connect with supportive family and friends.


Resources

Minneapolis Heart Foundation www.mplsheartfoundation.org/education/education_riskfactors_stress.asp
American Heart Association www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4750
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/other/hhw/hdbk_wmn.pdf