How runaway stress hurts your heart – and your brain

There are few life events more stressful, in my considered opinion, than surviving a heart attack. Not only is the actual cardiac event a traumatic and overwhelming experience in itself, but what very few cardiologists  tell us before they boot us out the hospital door is how debilitating the day-to-day angst about every little subsequent bubble and squeak can actually be.  I can recall, for example, feeling virtually paralyzed with fear over unexpected chest pains following my heart attack (symptoms, I later learned from my cardiac nurse, that are often called “stretching pain” – common in recently stented coronary arteries). These symptoms turned out to be relatively benign – NOT the massive second heart attack I feared they signaled at the time.

David Ropeik teaches at Harvard and is the author of Risk! A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You. His observations about worry and chronic stress – such as living with heart disease – may ring true for you.

He recently asked his Big Think column readers:

“Want something else to worry about? Worry about worrying too much. The evidence is building that chronically elevated stress shrinks your brain.”   Continue reading “How runaway stress hurts your heart – and your brain”

“Stress creep”: are you like the frog in the pot of boiling water?

Guest post, originally broadcast on WBFO Radio by Dr. Elvira Aletta:

“I’m sure you’ve heard that if you boil a pot of water and throw in a live frog, that frog will hop right out, saving his life to croak another day. If, on the other hand, you place a frog in a pot of cold water and turn the heat up slowly, that frog will stay in the pot. The frog will not jump out.

“Instead, he will slowly get used to the increasingly hot water until it boils to death. Truth or urban legend? To prove it, I’d have to cook a live frog – and that’s not going to happen! It sounds true,  so it should be because of what it teaches us.   Continue reading ““Stress creep”: are you like the frog in the pot of boiling water?”

A heart patient’s guide to the three stages of chronic stress

gas gauge empty

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

McGill University’s Centre for Studies on Human Stress at L’Hôpital Louis H. Lafontaine in Montréal is a remarkably helpful resource for those of you who are so chronically stressed day to day that you no longer think this state of being is even abnormal anymore.

Anybody who has undergone ongoing chaos in the workplace, a family health crisis, a divorce, a death in the family, serious financial worries, too darned many deadlines, and many other of life’s realities can recognize the symptoms of chronic stress – but did you know that this low-grade stress is extremely damaging to our hearts?

In fact, the World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020, stress-related disorders like heart disease and depression will be in the top two leading causes of disability in adults. According to the Centre for Studies On Human Stress, there are three distinct stages of chronic stress.  See if any of these sound familiar:  Continue reading “A heart patient’s guide to the three stages of chronic stress”

Women’s heart disease and chronic stress

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Cardiology researchers have recently begun calling on doctors to include the diagnosis and treatment of stress in the routine care for patients with heart disease.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, led by researchers at Université Laval in Quebec City, found that first-time heart attack survivors who returned to chronically stressful jobs within 18 months of their heart attacks were twice as likely to have a second heart attack as patients whose occupations were less stressful, and also had a markedly higher risk of death than their less-stressed peers.   click to continue reading