From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Situations that are stress-provoking are part of everyone's life – from daily situations such as traffic jams, lineups or deadlines, to major life events such as moving, marriage, or a death in the family. How you cope may make all the difference. On the one hand, these situations or stressors can be a good thing because they drive and exhilarates us – stimulating the mind and body. On the other, if you perceive the stress or as unrelenting, it can harm your health and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. How you cope may make all the difference.

What the research tells us

Although the relationship between stress and heart disease and stroke is still being investigated, preliminary evidence suggests that stress may contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke. It is thought that certain individuals with high levels of stress or prolonged stress may:

  • Have higher blood cholesterol
  • Experience increases in blood pressure
  • Have blood platelets that are more likely to clot (clump together inside the blood vessels)

What's more, it is known that stress-filled lifestyles make it difficult for a person to make or maintain resolutions to lead a healthy life. Instead of exercising to relieve stress, for example, some people respond by overeating, eating unhealthy foods, excessive alcohol consumption or smoking. Such negative reactions to stress merely increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

Becoming aware of what causes stress in your life and learning how to effectively deal with them will enable you to get on the right track for a healthier lifestyle.

Managing stress
One of the best ways to fight stress is to get pleasure out of life. So try to make time for the things that are really important to you. Many of us get so caught up in our work and our routine duties that we end up feeling isolated, depressed or trapped. We forget the big picture. We all need to take time out to experience the good things in life, the things that give us genuine pleasure. Here are some suggestions:

Hobbies – Whether you enjoy photography, crafts, sports, or any other hobby, the key is to do it on a regular basis. Build time into your schedule to enjoy these activities and make them a priority. Consider it “nourishment for the soul.”

Gardening – Whether you have a backyard or live in an apartment, consider the soothing quality of tending plants and watching them grow. The results of your work are obvious and continue day-to-day and month-to-month as you watch your flowers or vegetable patch take root.

Volunteer work – Helping others helps take attention away from yourself and this may reduce your anxieties. Find an organization whose goals you support – volunteer to do something you enjoy. Donating money to charities is very worthwhile, but you may also benefit from personal involvement.

Vacations – Taking a break, for a weekend or a few weeks, may be refreshing, but be careful. Vacations can be stressful if they are poorly planned, too expensive for your budget or if you are under constant pressure to make decisions about where to travel, eat and stay. Plan ahead and don't try to pack too much into the time available.

Enjoy nature – We are lucky to live in a country with open spaces and many municipal, provincial and national parks. If you live in the city – walk in your local park, smell the flowers, enjoy the trees and the birds – try to get away from the noise of the city occasionally.

Excerpts from Coping with Stress booklet (© Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Canadian Mental Health Association)

Last reviewed April 2006.

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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This article has been independently researched, written and reviewed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and is based on scientific evidence. The information is for reference and education only. This web article is not intended to be a substitute for a physician'‘s advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should consult your physician for specific information on personal health matters. The Heart and Stroke Foundation assumes no responsibility or liability arising from any error in, or omission of, information or from the use of any information or advice contained within this article.

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