Stress and Heart Disease
Research shows that the most commonly reported "trigger" for a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting event. The two may also be linked indirectly -- many of the ways people cope with stress (such as heavy drinking and smoking) affect risk factors for heart disease. Sensible health habits (such as regular physical activity) can have a protective effect on both heart disease and stress.
Stress and heart disease are linked in a number of ways. Research shows that the most commonly reported "trigger" for a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting event, particularly one involving anger.
In addition, it is thought that stress can play a role in heart disease because it can affect habits. For example, some common ways of coping with stress (such as overeating, heavy drinking, and smoking) are clearly bad for your heart.
But people often wonder, "Does stress cause heart disease?" The answer to this question is less clear-cut; most heart disease research scientists would probably say, "No" or "We don't know for sure." Scientists do know that certain environmental and psychosocial factors (such as job strain or personality type) can increase the risk for heart disease. What they do not know is whether these factors and the stress they can create directly cause heart disease or if they affect another known heart disease risk factor.
The good news is that sensible health habits can have a protective effect on both heart disease and stress. For people with heart disease, regular physical activity not only relieves stress, but also can directly lower the risk of heart disease complications. Participating in a stress management program can help to prevent recurrent heart attacks and repeat heart procedures. These programs also may have other benefits, such as:
- Making you feel better
- Helping you to control overeating
- Reducing the need for alcohol and cigarettes.
If stress is a major factor in your life, something as simple as spending a small amount of time relaxing every day, even at work, may help you manage stress better. Other things, like yoga, meditation, making time to relax, doing the things you enjoy, or getting a massage, can also be helpful.
Good relationships count, too. Developing strong relationships can help to improve recovery after a heart attack.