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Heart Disease Health Center

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Enron's Ken Lay Dies, Was It Stress?

News Reports Cite Possible Heart Attack

Long-Term Stress & Heart RisksWhere Does Lay Fit?

If Lay had had a heart attack or died suddenly upon hearing his verdict, that scenario would have qualified as acute stress. If his legal case had lasted 10 years, that would fit long-term stress, Myerburg says.

But Lay's death doesn't quite fit either pattern. "It's hard to know where to put that," Myerburg says, calling Lay's legal ordeal an "intermediate" length of stress.

Enron entered bankruptcy in 2001. And Lay's criminal case lasted several years, but it was "not long enough to talk about development of heart disease," and "not long enough to develop atherosclerosis," Myerburg says.

Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a major heart risk. Doctors don't know exactly how stress affects atherosclerosis or heart disease.

Long-Term Stress & Heart RisksCoping With Stress

Getting a thorough checkup can help gauge your heart risk. And since stress is part of life, learning to cope with it may help.

Handling stress can be "rough," Myerburg says. Acute stresses often can't be avoided, and long-term ones may be hard to budge.

Myerburg says he often advises people to see psychiatrists or psychologists to help them cope with situational stresses. He calls long-term stress a "quality of life issue."

The following strategies may help you cope with stress:

  • Eat and drink sensibly. Overindulging in alcohol and food adds to stress.
  • Assert yourself. Learn to stand up for your rights and beliefs while respecting those of others.
  • Stop smoking. Nicotine acts as a stimulant and brings on more stress symptoms.
  • Exercise regularly. It's a stress-buster. Get your doctor's approval before starting a new fitness program.
  • Relax every day. Techniques include meditation, deep breathing, biofeedback, and mental imagery.
  • Take responsibility. Control what you can and leave behind what you cannot control.
  • Cut causes of stress. Take good care of yourself, don't overload your schedule, set priorities, and skip hassles, such as bad, traffic when possible.
  • Examine your values and live by them. Doing so may make you feel better, even under stress.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations. It's OK -- and healthy -- to admit you cannot be 100% successful at everything all at once.
  • Build your self-esteem. Feeling overwhelmed? Remind yourself of what you do well.
  • Get enough rest. The time you spend resting should be long enough to relax your mind as well as your body.
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