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Manage stress

Emotional turmoil can take a toll on your heart

Last updated: March 2013

Negative emotions, such as stress or anger, trigger the release of hormones that can threaten your heart. And people who experience those troubles have more heart attacks than calmer, more cheerful types, research suggests. People in rocky relationships, for example, are more prone to heart disease. And those with stressful jobs are more likely to have high blood pressure and, if they return to work too soon after a heart attack, to have a second one. But curbing negative emotions may offer some of the same benefits as a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise

Know the warning signs

Here are seven signs that your stress level may be high:

  • Unexplained physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, teeth grinding, and a change in your sex drive.
  • Anger, depression, irritability, or nervousness that's more than circumstances warrant.
  • Arguing more with family and friends.
  • Problems at work.
  • Lying awake at night worrying.
  • Eating more, especially unhealthy foods, or skipping meals.
  • Increased drinking or smoking.

Try simple steps first

Develop your own portfolio of coping strategies:

Exercise. People who exercise regularly have lower levels of stress hormones and exhibit smaller increases in blood pressure under duress. It also helps ease depression.

Yoga and tai chi. These gentle exercises can lower blood pressure and heart rate.

Relaxation. This can include meditation, massage, or listening to music. Whatever you choose, find time each day to unwind.

If you don't think those measures are doing the trick, seek counseling. One approach is mindful meditation, which involves nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. Another approach uses cognitive-behavioral programs to match appropriate mental strategies to stressful situations. Your insurance company may have a list of providers. You can also get referrals through the American Psychological Association or the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.

Heart attack calculator

Click on the image at right to use our heart-attack risk calculator. It can help you determine your risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years. Based on your answers, we've also included recommendations to help keep you healthy.

Ratings of heart tests

Click on the image at right to see our Ratings of tests used to screen for heart disease. It can help find the tests that are best for you, based on your your age, gender, and risk level.

   

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