Unless you’re completely free of anger, worry, deadlines and all other sources of tension in everyday life and who is? you’re going to feel some stress now and then. Is this bad for your heart?
The research isn’t clear on that. A recent study by Canadian scientists showed that highly stressed heart patients did not respond as well as others to medication for angina and chest pain. And the American Heart Association says patients with heart failure should take steps to reduce and manage stress to reduce strain on their hearts.
Of stress management in general, though, the American Heart Association (AHA) says that “the available data do not yet support specific recommendations for its use as a proven (prevention or treatment) for heart disease.”
But how you cope with stressful situations may make a difference, especially if you habitually react to stress in ways that feed physically harmful emotions such as chronic hostility. Stress management is not about avoiding stress but, rather, learning to manage its recurring effects.
Everyone who does much driving gets cut off in traffic now and then, and gets a burst of adrenaline produced by fear or anger. Some people, though, can quickly relax and return to a normal physical state. Others stew about the incident, and might make things even worse by discussing it with others who share your hostility and may feed it with stories of their own.
In heart failure, the heart muscle is weakened and the patient needs to take care not to make it work any harder than necessary. So here it’s important to reduce physical symptoms of stress a pounding heart and heavy breathing as much as possible. Though avoiding all stress may be impossible, you may be able to adjust your activities to avoid stress triggers like rush-hour traffic or long hours at work.
Support groups are recommended for coping with all the emotional factors in heart disease, from stress to anger and anxiety. One of the largest and best known is Mended Hearts, which has hundreds of chapters nationwide and thousands of volunteers available to visit new heart patients. “Visits” are also available via the Internet.