While we do have some research on this topic, there’s much more that we don’t know about this relationship than we do know.
At one extreme, there are well-documented cases of “voodoo death,” where people become so powerfully frightened that their hearts stop beating and most go on to die. There are also well-established instances of more chronic heart conditions brought on by long-standing high blood pressure, which is influenced by stress, at least in some people.
But the most common form of heart disease we are concerned about is coronary artery disease (hardening of the arteries) and here the picture becomes more muddy.
While stress is one of many contributing factors that can lead to coronary artery disease (along with smoking, heredity, gender, cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure, triglycerides, diet, and inactivity) the degree to which it contributes is poorly understood.
Stress can also have indirect effects, by causing people to smoke, by raising blood pressure, by making diabetes worse, etc. All of these can increase the risk of developing heart disease.
So, the picture is not clear at all. Personally, I believe that stress does play an important role in causing coronary artery disease, at least in some individuals, but possibly not for others.
So if you frequently have high levels of stress, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your heart is at risk…but then again, it could be. Since there’s no way to know for sure, you should probably assume that stress does pose you a risk, and then try to get your stress levels as low as possible.
Not only is this a good strategy for protecting your heart, but it also can help protect you from other harmful consequences of stress, whether we have certain knowledge about these cause-effect relationships or not.
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