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5 reasons you cannot ignore stress

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Stress takes a toll on the heart and could double the chances of heart attack.

Stress is a normal part of life, but that does not mean it should be ignored. Researchers say they have found if we ignore stress, our risk of dying from heart attack doubles. If you think stress is affecting your health, it probably is.

When we fail to cope with stress, several things happen in the body that has negative health consequences. Our heart rate and blood pressure increases and stress hormones are released.

Cortisol release is normal when we are faces with a dangerous situation. The hormone helps us react quickly when needed. But too much of a good thing in this case could mean looming heart problems.

Hermann Nabi, a senior research associate at the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at INSERM in Villejuif, France said in a press release, "People's perceptions about the impact of stress on their health are likely to be correct,"

"They may need to take actions when they feel that it is the case," he added.

One hormone in particular, cortisol that is produced by the adrenal gland, is linked to specific health problems that explain why researchers now recommend stress should not be ignored - not by us and not by clinicians whose patients report they feel stressed on a regular basis.

Too much cortisol in the bloodstream over a long period of time can cause:

Decreased immune function: The result can make us susceptible to a variety of bacterial and viral illnesses that take a toll, especially as we age. Immune function is also important for preventing cancer. Too much stress, emotional and physical, can turn normal cells into cancerous tumors, found in a 2010 study.

Obesity: Prolonged stress and the effect on the body from cortisol could lead to obesity, which is also linked to higher risk of several types of cancer and also type 2 diabetes. Obesity is also a risk factor for heart disease from high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Memory problems: A 2002 report from McGill University researchers highlights how damaging stress can be to the brain. According to the scientists, high levels of the hormone cause deterioration of the hippocampus in the brain that can lead to memory loss and is also an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

Heart attack: If you feel stressed, you may be at risk for heart attack, the newest study found. Nabi and his team looked at 7,000 men and women who took part in the Whitehall II study that has followed London-based civil servants since 1985. The participants underwent physical exams that included blood pressure screening, diabetes, socioeconomic status, weight and other data. They also answered questionnaires designed to measure their level of perceived stress.

Over 18-years, there were 352 heart attacks or death from heart attack that the researchers found to be linked to people who reported high stress was affecting their health.

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Fatigue: The long-term effects of stress cause us to constantly feel fatigued. High levels of cortisol can cause the thyroid gland to dysfunction, leading to a host of other problems including depression, more weight gain and mood swings. Cortisol also affects the production of other hormones like serotonin that helps regulate mood and insulin that is important for regulating blood sugar levels.

Natural ways to cope with chronic stress

Stay socially active: Studies prove people who are engaged socially with friends live longer and cope better with stress.

Meditate: Practicing daily meditation is easy to learn. Researchers have proven taking time each day to calm the mind through meditation reduces anxiety by 39 percent

Eat stress busting foods. Dark chocolate is proven to ease anxiety, but should be consumed in moderation. Foods that calm stress are healthy foods like berries, avocados, asparagus and nuts. Cashews might be especially beneficial because they contain zinc. Low levels have been linked to anxiety and depression, but eat them in moderation to avoid weight gain.

Learn how to breathe deeply. Voluntary, focused deep breathing was shown lower cortisol levels in a 2010 study that included 50 participants after 4 weeks, compared to a placebo group.

Practice yoga: You don’t have to be flexible to begin learning yoga that is proven to help reduce levels of perceived stress. Gentle yoga can be practiced at any age and any level of fitness, including in a chair.

Laugh often: When we laugh, the body releases endorphins. Laughter lowers our blood pressure, help boost good cholesterol levels and decrease stress hormones. If you want a full health boost, consider finding a Laughter Yoga class in your area. You will also meet new people along the way.

The newest research emphasizes what we have already known; that stress can take a toll on health and in this case our heart.

A strong association was found between people who feel being stressed all the time affects their health and higher rates of heart attack, even after adjusting for other factors. Finding ways to cope with the inevitable stresses of daily job demands, too little time to accomplish chores, financial concerns and finding time to help family and friends can ensure a longer and happier life. Stress won’t go away, but we can find ways to reduce the harmful health effects.

“Efficacy of the controlled breathing therapy on stress: biological correlates. preliminary study”.
May, 2010

“The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress.”
March, 2012

American Heart Association
“Humor helps your heart? How?”
November 29, 2012