Anticipating that you are unhealthy because of stress may have a negative influence on your heart health, according to a new study published in the European Heart Journal.

Investigators examined data from the Whitehall II study which is partly funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The Whitehall II study, established in 1985, gathered health data from several thousand civil servants.

They found people who perceived stress as significantly affecting their health had twice the risk of experiencing coronary heart disease – compared with those who did not think stress was making an impact.

Thembi Nkala, a Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“The effect of stress on your body and heart is an extremely complex issue and it’s something we don’t yet fully understand. These findings raise the possibility that the mere perception of stress can impact on heart health – but they also leave more questions than answers.

We’ll need more research to unpick this complicated relationship further but in the meantime it’s vital everyone finds ways to unwind and decrease their daily stress levels.”

Previous research suggested that women who are in highly stressful jobs are 40% more likely to:

  • suffer a heart attack
  • ischemic stroke
  • require treatment for blocked arteries
  • suffer from cardiovascular disease

Additionally, greater lifetime exposure to the stress of traumatic events was associated with higher levels of inflammation in people with cardiovascular disease. The outcomes revealed that even if you don’t develop post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic stress can still have a long-term negative impact on personal health.

This week, the European Heart Journal also published a report revealing that heart disease deaths have decreased by more than half in Europe since the 1980s. Coronary heart disease is the UK’s single biggest killer.

Nkala concluded:

“Think about which areas of your life are most stressful and find ways to better cope with them or, if possible, avoid them completely. Stress can make you smoke, eat and drink alcohol excessively so a healthy lifestyle, relaxation techniques and physical activity can be helpful. Your doctor can offer support, too.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald