In the movies, you never doubt when a man's having a heart attack. He clutches his chest, screams, or moans, and falls to the ground. If he's lucky, help is on its way.
In real life, the signs aren't always so clear. Some people do experience Hollywood-type symptoms, says Mohamud Daya, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. But others don’t. “Some people say they just feel uneasy discomfort or vague discomfort, not pain that really hurts...
The stress itself can be a problem. It raises your blood pressure, and it's not good for your body to constantly be exposed to stress hormones. Studies also link stress to changes in the way blood clots, which makes a heart attack more likely.
The way you handle stress also matters. If you respond to it in unhealthy ways -- such as smoking, overeating, or not exercising -- that makes matters worse. On the other hand, if you exercise, connect with people, and find meaning despite the stress, that makes a difference in your emotions and in your body.
You may also want to:
Change what you can to lower your stress.
Accept that there are some things you cannot control.
Before you agree to do something, consider whether you can really do it. It's OK to say "no" to requests that will add more stress to your life.
Stay connected with people you love.
Make it a point to relax every day. You could read a book, listen to music, meditate, pray, do yoga or tai chi, journal, or reflect on what is good in your life.
Be active! When you exercise, you'll burn off some of your stress and be better prepared to handle problems.
Some people have a hard time with stress because they are depressed. If that's you, seek help from a doctor or counselor. Depression is linked to heart disease, and it can be treated.
If you're finding it hard to shift your way of handling stress, take a stress management class, read a book on managing stress, or sign up for a few sessions with a therapist. It's an investment in your health and the quality of your life, both now and for years to come.