Turn2Me, a national mental health charity, has spoken about the link between stress and heart conditions ahead of World Heart Day, this Thursday, September 29.

The charity said that chronic stress can lead to a stroke or heart attack, and that people should try to reduce their levels of stress for a healthier lifestyle. 

“Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Suzanne Ennis, Clinical Manager at Turn2Me, said.

“Some symptoms of stress can be elevated blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, palpitations, cold hands and feet, dizziness, and chest pain. Chronic stress leads to serious health problems because it disrupts nearly every system in your body.

“Part of what makes chronic stress so insidious is its ability to become a “normal” feeling, it becomes the familiar. This pattern of endurance is what makes chronic stress such a serious health issue. 

“Poverty, trauma, general pressure from the demands of life, and more can all cause chronic stress,” Suzanne continued, “Chronic stress can lead to cancer, strokes, and heart attacks, as well as violent behaviour and even suicide.  

“While under stress, your heart pumps faster, this can result in increased blood pressure, resulting in stroke or heart attack.”

Suzanne Ennis

Suzanne stated there are many ways to better manage stress, including:

Relaxation Techniques: These are activities that trigger the relaxation response, a physiological change that can help lower your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, and stress hormones. These can include yoga, deep breathing and stretching.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: CBT is based on the idea that changing unhealthy thinking can change your emotions. A CBT therapist will help you identify negative thinking and learn to automatically replace it with healthy or positive thoughts, reducing stress.

Realistic Goal Setting: Setting goals can have a positive effect, provide one with a sense of commitment, feel they're in control, and are optimistic. Set goals in your career, relationships, creativity, play, and health can really help manage stress.

Exercise Regularly:  In addition to having physical health benefits, exercise has been shown to be a powerful stress reliever. Exercise releases endorphins—natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude.

Daily Reflection: Conduct daily check-ins, by asking yourself how you are. What do you need to help yourself? When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself of what you do well. Try to have a healthy sense of self.

Prioritise Yourself:  The more your actions reflect your beliefs, the better you will feel, no matter how busy your life is. It’s okay to say “No” to demands on your time and energy that will place too much stress on you. You don’t always have to meet the expectations of others.

Suzanne also spoke about the negative effect anxiety can have on the body -

“Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes.” Suzanne said.

“The right psychotherapy will teach you to control your anxiety and will offer relief from anxiety in a matter of weeks.

“Therapists know that eliminating symptomatology isn't the same as eliminating aetiology. Underlying psychological causes or triggers for anxiety, such as those stemming from trauma, are not the target of management techniques; they require longer-term psychotherapy. However, anxiety-management techniques can offer relief, and offer it very speedily.  

“The unpleasant symptoms most likely to be helped by medication are the very ones that your therapist can assist you to correct. They fall into three typical clusters:

- the physical reaction that constitutes the terror of panic.

- the "wired" feelings of tension that correlate with being "stressed out" and can include pit-of-the-stomach doom.

- the mental anguish of rumination - a brain that won't stop thinking distressing thoughts.

A therapist armed with methods for addressing these clusters can offer their anxious client the promise of relief.”

Turn2Me said that sometimes people who are going through an anxiety or panic attack think they are having a heart attack.

The thought of suffering from a heart attack can be very frightening and make you more anxious. Therefore, it is important to know the difference. Turn2Me also emphasised that people who have persistent or frequent chest pain should contact their GP.

Turn2Me listed the differences between a panic attack and a heart attack:

Anxiety / Panic Attack 

  • Any pain is usually described as 'sharp’
  • The pain tends to be felt over the heart
  • The pain is usually made worse by breathing in and out and pressing on the centre of the chest
  • Pain usually disappears within 5 - 10 mins

Heart Attack Pain

  • It may or may not be present.
  • If present, you may have a ‘crushing' feeling in your chest (like someone standing on your chest)
  • Pain is not usually made worse by breathing or by pressing on the chest.
  • Pain is usually persistent and lasts longer than 5 minutes.

Turn2Me have several free weekly support groups, and one-to-one counselling sessions available to assist with managing stress, arming users with the tools they need to identify and reduce their levels of stress.  

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