A RECENT study has shown that high levels of stress are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Researchers tracked almost 120,000 patients from 21 countries over ten years and found that those with excessive levels of stress had somewhere between 22 and 30 per cent greater risk of a cardiovascular event.

While this may not seem like anything surprising, or even new, this is one of the few studies to engage participants before a heart attack or stroke, whereas many previously relied on reported stress levels in those who had already had a major cardiovascular event.

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Perhaps what we can now say is that stress can and should be viewed as a modifiable risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease. As with all conditions, there are risk factors which are fixed, typically gender, age and family history, as well as those which are modifiable, such as weight, exercise, tobacco and alcohol consumption.

There is no one simple answer as to why stress is linked with a greater chance of heart attack and stroke. From a physiological standpoint, chronically elevated levels of cortisol are linked with impaired blood sugar regulation and the development of diabetes, high blood pressure, disruption of the sleep wake cycle, and increased hardening of the arteries.

Yet the psychological aspects of prolonged stress must not be underestimated. Poor mental health alters perception significantly such that those suffering do less to look after themselves.

You may feel this is a less appealing article for the season of good will, but the period of Christmas is traditionally associated with worsening levels of anxiety and stress as well as a large increase in the numbers of heart attacks and strokes.

Post Pandemic Stress Disorder should also be considered at the present time.

Steps toward a reduction in cardiovascular events and an improvement in both physical and mental health are still within our reach. By being less of a perfectionist, living in the moment, accepting that the past is the past, yet not worrying unnecessarily about the future, we may unburden ourselves of many of our stressors.

Doing something for ourselves, even for half an hour a day, which can be something as simple as a short walk or diving into a novel, has also often been advocated as a means of maintaining good psychological wellbeing.