We’ve long-known that stress can increase heart attack risk, and research has quantified just how dangerous stress can be on your heart.
Researchers at the University College of London analyzed results of previous studies in 13 different European countries from 1985 to 2006. Participants in these studies were asked about their job demands and decision-making authority. What they found is that people with considerable job stress, and little decision-making authority, have a 23 percent increased risk of having a heart attack.
That's consistent with what I saw in our state back in the 1980s as the defense industry went through economic hard times. It was the people in middle management who had to implement tough decisions handed down from upper management who were meeting one another in the coronary care unit instead of the next management meeting. Everyone was working longer hours, often six days a week, for the same pay. The heart attack rate for them was a phenomenon I will never forget.
Why Does Stress Increase Your Heart Attack Risk?
When you’re faced with a stressful situation, your body released adrenaline which raises your blood pressure and increases your heart rate and breathing. If true danger was lurking—such as a lion about to attack you—that stress response would enable you to flee. But if that adrenaline rush is intense or frequent it can lead to a heart attack. This is especially true if you’re fighting “lions” in your office on a daily basis. Feelings of being trapped can predispose one to overdose on their body’s own biochemicals.
Fortunately, you can protect yourself:
- Keep work stresses in perspective—focusing on the things you can control and letting go of those you can’t. Also, be sure to make time for your family, friends, pets, and hobbies outside of work to keep you balanced and centered.
- Make time in your work day for a brisk walk. Just 20 minutes of walking, whether it’s around the block, or up and down the stairwell in your workplace, can release stress from your muscles and stimulate your body’s creation of feel-good endorphins. So, keep a pair of walking shoes under your desk or in your car for a quick stress-relieving walk.
- Get plenty of sleep. It’s easier to focus on your work, and to keep work stresses in perspective, when you’ve had a sound night’s rest. Strive to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
- Fortify your body with B vitamins, which are quickly depleted from your body during times of stress. I recommend taking vitamin B6, 40 mg daily; vitamin B12, 500 mcg daily; and folic acid, 200–400 mcg daily.
- Do some energy balancing with a Reiki practitioner.
- Try Earthing, which also helps to readjust a hyperactive autonomic nervous system and supports heart rate variability.
- Learn Alternate Nostril Breathing. Even a few minutes of Alternate Nostril Breathing will calm an overstressed autonomic nervous system. First, take a deep breath in and out through your nose. Then use your right thumb to close your right nostril and inhale slowly through your left nostril. While still holding your right nostril closed with your thumb, close your left nostril with your right ring finger so both nostrils are closed, and hold the breath for a moment. Now open your right nostril and breathe out slowly. Inhale slowly through your right nostril. Hold both nostrils closed again briefly. Then open your left nostril and breathe out slowly. Alternate back and forth for a couple of minutes to destress.