I had my first heart attack 26 years ago, when I was 52. I was very active
then, sometimes jogging and often walking long distances. But I was also on the
congressional staff in Washington, and the day leading up to the attack was
even more hectic than usual. My boss was introducing major legislation, and I
had crafted an important floor speech. I didn’t have time for regular meals and
ate a huge cheeseburger for dinner, then smoked three or four cigarettes.
It happened about 3 in the morning...
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.