A new study from Harvard Medical School in Boston has discovered a frightening new finding about why stress is not good for you: stress can cause heart attacks. To be more precise, stress can cause your body to produce too much white blood cells, which, in turn, can create heart problems.
While white blood cells fight diseases, they can do more harm than good when produced in excess. When there is an abundance of white blood cells, the extra cells create blockage by sticking to the inner walls of your arteries. This restricts flood flow, forms clots that block circulation, and can result in a heart attack.
“[They] are important to fight infection and healing, but if you have too many of them, or they are in the wrong place, they can be harmful,” said study co-author and biologist Matthias Nahrendorf of the Harvard Medical School, according to reports by Agence France-Presse.
These findings, which have been published in journal Nature Medicine, are especially troublesome for those who already have an existing heart condition (say, atherosclerosis) as it leaves them at more risk of a heart attack. In these patients, added stress can result in a heart attack or a stroke.
“The idea has been out there that chronic psychosocial stress is associated with increased cardiovascular disease in humans, but what’s been lacking is a mechanism,” explains physician and atherosclerosis researcher Alan Tall of Columbia University to Science magazine about the significance of the study.
The perils associated with stress neither start nor stop here. Chronic stress has been affiliated with anxiety, depression, digestive problems, sleep problems, weight gain, memory and concentration impairment, high blood pressure, diabetes, skin problems, susceptibility to infection, and infertility.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 69 percent of employees report that work is a significant source of stress, 70 percent of all deaths in the United States are attributed to chronic disease, and more than half of adults admit that family responsibilities are a significant source of stress.
With the effects of stress being potentially fatal, it is important to take proactive measures to cope with stress, if not eradicate it from your life completely. Here are eleven tips on how to deal with stress:
- “Recognize signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol, and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy,” advises the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Everyone has a support system that makes them feel better — whether it be friends, family or a religious organization. Identify what keeps you stress-free and stay in touch with those people. Consider this: One study found that college students who practiced a religion were less stressed than students who did not.
- Believe it or not, candles and aromatherapy can help reduce stress levels. Not all scents are made alike — lavender is one scent that is consistently associated with reducing stress.
- Do not take on more than you can handle. Biting off more than you can chew — as the age old saying goes — can be a huge component to chronic stress. Be sure to say no to what you cannot handle and prioritizing your tasks.
- Studies have found that exercising regularly is a great way to reduce stress. In fact, just 30 minutes of activity a day can help your mood and stress levels courtesy of the post-exercise endorphin rush.
- There are many activities that help ward off stress, including yoga and tai chi. Form a habit of engaging in such stress-reducing activities to keep stress at bay.
- Listening to music has been associated with relieving stress, as music has been proven to trigger biochemical stress reducers.
- You’ve heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine,” and in the case of stress, it just might be. Studies have found that laughing is a great way to eliminate the physical effects of stress.
- One study has found that drinking black tea can lower post-stress cortisol levels and help you relax.
- There’s a reason why kindergarteners are so stress-free: Nap time. Studies have found that taking naps can reduce cortisol levels.
- If all else fails, seek out a mental health professional who can help you reduce your stress and stop you from dwelling on problems. If stress leads you to have suicidal thoughts or rely on alcohol and drugs, then a mental health care provider is a must.