Stress & The Impact On Stroke Risk – It’s Greater Than You Think

Susan Kinross, Registered Professional Counsellor

Experiencing stress in our lives is inevitable.

In fact, we need some stress in order to help us learn, grow, adapt and function in our lives.  Many studies show that it isn’t so much the stress itself that affects us, but our ability or lack of ability to cope with or manage the stress.

The relationship between stress levels and incidence of stroke is a complex one.  What is known is that an inability to cope with stress can make other risk factors for stroke worse, such as increased blood pressure, overeating , exercising less, and more use of cigarettes and/or alcohol.

To help determine how coping well with stress can affect stroke risk, a University of Cambridge team undertook a 7-year study of more than 20,000 people.  They recorded 452 strokes and more than 100,000 stressful life events among the participants.  Their findings, published in the journal Stroke (2006) revealed that those who were able to adapt more rapidly in response to stressful circumstances in life had a 24% lower risk of stroke.

A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine revealed 10% of strokes in men can be attributed to mental stress from work.

How can we learn to manage stress well? 

Lifestyle choices are key!  These include  eating healthy foods, eliminating or minimizing sugar, caffeine and alcohol intake, exercising regularly (do something you love such as walking in nature), and finding other ways to relax that work for you.  The ability to mentally and physically relax is essential in order to be able to respond well to stress in our lives.  Some methods for this include relaxation techniques, guided visualizations, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, breath awareness and  body awareness techniques.  Any of these can be learned and then practiced in your daily life.  Meditation has been shown to positively affect many of our physiological processes, such as lowering blood pressure and reducing emotional reactivity.  In 1979, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MSBR.  This program includes mindfulness meditation, yoga and some martial arts.  It has been shown to decrease physical pain and to increase ability to manage stress.  Perhaps, most importantly, MSBR allows for people to tap into their own deepest inner resources for learning, growing, healing and transformation.

In  summary, the research shows that our ability to cope with and adapt well to stress in life leads to better health, which is linked to lower risk for stroke.  By making healthy lifestyle choices, including stress reduction and relaxation, we can maintain good health and longevity.

Susan Kinross, Registered Professional Counsellor 

 At Port Moody Health, Susan offers individual counselling for anxiety, stress reduction, life balance and prevention of/healing from burnout.  In her counselling practice, Susan uses and teaches relaxation techniques, guided visualization, mindfulness, breath awareness, body awareness and inquiry – all of which lead to stress reduction.  As unresolved emotional issues perpetuate the cycles of stress and anxiety, Susan offers her help and support to move through these to be able to experience peace and an improved  ability to adapt to life’s stresses.

Other Resources   Veracis Meditation and Wellness Centre is located in central Port Moody.  Veracis offers various types of meditation classes, both in structured formats and drop-in.

Recommended Reading   The Little Book of Anxiety by David Posen, MD  is a great little book that  offers a wealth of information,  tools and tips for practical application to reduce and manage stress.  It is available for purchase at Port Moody Health.

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