High stress can lead to heart attacks, finds sibling study. Here's how to relax: shots

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The trick, of course, is to find moments of deep relaxation wherever you are, not just on vacation. Laughing with friends can be another way to start breaking the chronic stress cycle and help keep the heart healthy.

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The trick, of course, is to find moments of deep relaxation wherever you are, not just on vacation. Laughing with friends can be another way to start breaking the chronic stress cycle and help keep the heart healthy.

stock_colors / Getty Images

Work stress Home stress Financial stress.

The balance of chronic stress is not limited to emotional suffering. High stress can set the stage for heart disease.

If true, research shows that those of us who perceive a lot of stress in our lives are at a higher risk of heart attack and other long-term cardiovascular problems.

The latest evidence comes from a new study on siblings in Sweden. The researchers identified about 137,000 people who had been diagnosed with stress-related disorders; diagnoses included post-traumatic stress disorder or acute stress following a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one or a violent episode. Thus, the researchers identified about 171,000 of their brothers and sisters who had an education and similar genes – but no anxiety disorder.

Subsequently, they compared the rates of siblings of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, cardiac arrest and blood clots, for a number of years.

The Swedes who had a stress disorder, it turned out, had significantly higher rates of heart problems than their siblings.

"We have seen (approximately) a 60% increase in the risk of having cardiovascular events", in the first year after diagnosis, says the Unnur researcher A Valdimarsdóttir of the Karolinska Institute and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Iceland . Over the long term, the increased risk was around 30 percent, says Valdimarsdóttir.

The results, published in the current issue of the medical journal BMJ"They are quite consistent with other studies," says Simon Bacon, of Concordia University, who studies the impact of lifestyle on chronic diseases. Indicates other studies that show that depression, anxiety and stress increase the risk of cardiovascular events. He wrote an editorial that is published together with the study.

So when stress is just a normal part of life – something we all just have to deal with – and when does it become so problematic to lay the groundwork for the disease? Part of the answer here depends on how we respond to stress, say scientists, and our internal perceptions of how much stress we feel.

We have all experienced the stress or combat response.

"Imagine walking down the street and someone comes out and scares you," says Bacon. What happens? Heart rate increases and blood pressure rises. "You have immediate activation," says Bacon. And, in the short term, this temporary response is good. It gives you what you need to escape or act.

But the problem arises if you start experiencing these "stress response" activations even when there is no imminent threat.

"When people have stress disorders, these systems are activated at all times," says Bacon. For example, with PTSD, "you can get very exaggerated stress responses just by thinking of something that happened."

People suffering from chronic stress seem to be at a higher risk of health problems.

"In the long term, repeated and persistent responses (stress) will activate the immune system and contribute to inflammation," says Dr. Ernesto Schiffrin, doctor and professor of medicine at McGill University. He says that the inflammation can set the stage for atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart and body. When the arteries shrink, it limits blood flow – increasing the likelihood of a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events.

So, since we can't shake a magic wand and make stress disappear, what are the best coping options? There is no magic bullet, but daily habits can help reduce stress.

Schiffrin says to give his patients this advice: Eat healthy, try to have good relationships, have a good attitude, spend time in nature and exercise. "I think the exercise is fundamental," says Schiffrin. So let's take a closer look at each of these.

  • Exercise When the researchers analyzed data from the CDC survey of over a million adults in the United States, they found that people who exercised reported fewer days of poor mental health than those who did not practice. And, as we have reported, there was a further "increase" in mental health related to the game of team sports. But, whether you choose a simple walk, a bath in the forest or a group activity, who doesn't feel a little better after moving their bodies?
  • Grow friendships Loneliness is an epidemic. And, as we have reported, a recent survey found that 2 out of 5 respondents reported missing the company or said they felt isolated from others. However, spending time with friends can really improve our moods. Regardless of your level of life, signing up for a group activity or volunteering are good options to get and stay engaged in the community around you.
  • Learn meditation or relaxation techniques It has been shown that mindfulness meditation reduces the stress response and also helps reduce blood pressure among people who can maintain the habit. As we reported, one study found that meditation helped 40 of 60 patients reduce their blood pressure enough to reduce some of their medications.
  • Eat well There is indeed a link between food and mood. As we have reported, a diet rich in carbohydrates and refined sugars (the type that you will find in packs of snacks and soft drinks) can lead to a metabolic roller coaster, which can also affect your mood. On the other hand, a Mediterranean-style diet – rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fish – can make you feel nourished.
  • Look for help with anxiety disorders These daily habits can help reduce the amount of stress you feel, but for people with stress disorders like PTSD it may be best to seek professional help. "People should treat their mental health problems," says Bacon. You don't have to laugh, he says. Mental health professionals have many tools.

"You don't want to put yourself in a position where you could make your health worse by doing nothing," says Bacon.

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