Did you know that stress and anxiety may increase your risk of experiencing a disabling or deadly stroke? One stressed-out day won’t necessarily affect your stroke risk, but unmanaged chronic stress may.
In fact, these are the key factors that affect your stroke risk:
- Chronic stress and anxiety
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
Stress is an unavoidable fact of life for many of us. Work demands, family issues, and concerns about health and finances send stress levels soaring.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have faced more stress and anxiety. While some of this is unavoidable, finding ways to manage it can help lower stroke risk and keep you healthier overall.
How Stress Affects Your Stroke Risk
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is completely or partially blocked due to a blood clot, clogged blood vessel, or bleeding in the brain. When the amount of oxygen-rich blood your brain receives decreases, brain cells die.
As a result, you may have:
- Speech difficulties
- Balance or memory issues
- Muscle weakness
Some of these problems can be overcome with therapy, while others may be permanent. Strokes can even cause death if brain damage is severe.
How Stress Affects Your Body
Chronic stress and anxiety increases inflammation in your arteries and throughout your body. Eventually, damage caused by inflammation can narrow or stiffen the vessels, decreasing blood flow to your brain.
Blood pressure also tends to increase when you’re stressed. When your blood pressure is consistently high, it can narrow or weaken blood vessels. This makes it easier for blood clots to form or for vessels to leak or burst, triggering a stroke.
Even a slight increase in stress and anxiety levels may raise stroke risk, according to a research study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.
Researchers followed more than 6,000 people over 22 years to determine how stress and anxiety affects the risk of stroke. Study participants who reported the highest stress levels were 33% more likely to have a stroke than those who felt less anxious or stressed.
The greater the anxiety level, the higher the stroke risk. But even modest increases raised stroke risk.
How to Lower Stress in Healthy Ways
Managing stress is an important part of managing your health, as long as you do it in productive and healthy ways. Overeating, drinking, smoking, or doing drugs may only add to your stroke risk.
For example, junk food binges may make you feel calmer, but poor eating habits increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. An increase in “bad” cholesterol causes plaque to accumulate in your blood vessels. This fatty, waxy substance not only narrows blood vessels but can break off and form clots that travel to the brain, causing a stroke.
Healthy Ways to Prevent a Stroke
It's impossible to completely eliminate stress and anxiety from your life. But these steps may help you prevent it from taking over.
Stroke Risk Factors
80% of strokes are preventable. Besides stress, your diet, family history, and activity levels can increase your risk.
- Get plenty of exercise and rest.
- Make healthy eating a priority.
- Stay connected to friends and family, even if only virtually for now.
- Share your worries with a trusted relative, friend or health professional.
- Find something to smile or laugh about every day.
- Spend more time on hobbies and things that bring you joy.
- Try meditation, yoga, guided imagery, or deep breathing techniques.
- Take time just for yourself every day, even if it’s just a few minutes
- When you feel tension rising, take a few minutes to step back and put things in perspective.
- Give yourself permission to say “no” to requests that will add to your stress.
- Don’t manage stress by drinking, smoking, or taking drugs.
- Schedule an appointment with a mental health counselor if you feel overwhelmed by stress.
Every year, 800,000 people experience strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One way you may be able to avoid becoming another stroke statistic is by keeping your stress and anxiety under control.
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