Rahul Joshi is a manager in one of the multinational banks in the city. He was hospitalised last week when he suffered a major heart attack. People close to him couldn’t help commenting that Rahul was the last person they thought would land up with a heart attack. He did not fit the profile of a typical “heart attack” patient.
He was only 41, looked slim and trim, did not smoke and had never fallen ill in his life. He had in fact undergone an executive health check-up a year back and was given a clean chit by the doctor. When probed further, Rahul revealed that he was going through a lot of stress recently.
He had joined his new job only a year back where he puts in 15 to 16 hours a day, has no time for his family and the deadlines to be met were simply killing. So did stress give Rahul his heart attack?
Also read: Stress and hypertension in corporate world
Why is stress bad for your heart?
“Stress” is one of the most common patient complaints one encounters in medicine. Several studies suggest a marked increase in the stress levels among youngsters. There is also a growing evidence suggesting a strong link between the risk of cardiovascular disease, environmental and psychosocial factors. These factors include job strain, relationship problems, social isolation and personality traits.
Studies have shown that long term stress causes higher incidence of unhealthy lifestyle. More people with long-term work-related stress end up having reduced exercise, unhealthy diet, smoking, alcohol leading to obesity. This in turn increases chances of having hypertension, diabetes mellitus and high cholesterol.
So, long-term work-related stress increases the chances of having heart disease by making one prone to have risk factors for coronary heart disease.
It is possible that stress could increase your blood pressure, make you overeat, make you exercise less and make you to smoke more and thus increase your chance of having a heart problem.
Chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can be detrimental for the heart.
On the other hand, acute stress can cause sudden increase in the blood pressure or plaque rupture or formation of blood clots, leading to a heart attack.
Your response to stress is key
All people feel stress, but they feel it in different amounts and react to it in different ways. More than stress itself, it is the response to stress which is important and determines your health or ill-health. Some people react to stress with feelings of anger, guilt, fear, hostility, anxiety and moodiness that could make things worse. Others may face life’s challenges with ease.
When you are exposed to long periods of stress, your body gives warning signals that something is wrong. These physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral warning signs should not be ignored. They tell you that you need to slow down. If you continue to be stressed and you don’t give your body a break, you are likely to develop health problems. Unlike other risk factors for heart disease, it is not possible to measure stress in a precise way.
How do we manage stress?
Managing stress makes sense for your overall health. While it is impossible to live your life completely stress-free, it is possible to make some changes in one’s lifestyle, so as to reduce harmful effects of stress on one’s heart.
Let us look at 5 ways to keep you stress free
Keep time for your family and friends. Try not to bring office work to home. Spend quality time with your family and enjoy these moments. Take family holidays time to time.
Choose a hobby and spend some time on it. Be it singing, painting, playing or listening to music, photography, cooking, trekking etc. These activities can dramatically reduce your stress.
Do healthy activities daily. Does some kind of physical exercise like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, yoga, dancing etc. Have a healthy diet. Avoid smoking.
Your health is priority. Excessive job stress can ruin your health. Avoid job giving you lots of stress even if it pays you more.
Share your cause of stress with your trusted friends and spouse. Talk to a psychotherapist. There may be some way out. Do not allow the stress to make you depressed as excessive depression may lead to suicidal feelings.
(Writer is Dr Santosh Kumar Dora, senior cardiologist, Asian Heart Institute. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)