THE BLOG

Could Work Stress Give You a Heart Attack?

15/01/2015 15:34 GMT | Updated 17/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Many of us live in a state of ultra-stress that's hard to mitigate. Impossible deadlines, juggling too much, pressure to find and keep work - stress, it seems, has just become the norm. And we all know of someone who's had a heart attack in their prime, who's been 'under a lot of stress' and burnt out from the pressure. How can we avoid being one of them?

Jo Tocher had been in a high-stress job organising corporate business conferences for five years. Working long hours and living the City lifestyle meant burnout was imminent, so after a particularly nasty virus she left the job - but not the stress. Ten years later, with the pressure of a young family and running her own business, she passed out. Too worried to wait for an ECG appointment, Jo had a Pulse Wave Screening, a test that shows how much pressure your heart is under and how stiff your arteries. "The screening showed I had the arteries of an 80-year old (I was in my 40s). This could lead to a stroke or worse if I didn't change my lifestyle. It was a wake-up call".

Of course some of us can take more stress than others, depending on our genetic make-up, but it would seem that stressy type A personality people have a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart problems. Stress puts more pressure on the heart and increases the work it has to do. It also causes the release of cholesterol and triglycerides into the blood stream and makes the breathing shallow so we're not getting enough oxygen and the heart beats faster, pumping out cortisol from our adrenals. None of this is good.

If you work 24/7 and never switch off your mobile, or you're a busy exec who's always on call or in a different time zone, and you're unfit and overweight, you're a prime candidate for stress-related heart issues as your arteries are likely to be clogged.

Meditation and breathing exercises lower blood pressure, as does massage, while drinking plenty of water throughout the day thins the blood, which is better for heart health. Regular moderate exercise is essential.

Jo's wake-up call was life-changing. She altered her lifestyle and retrained as an aromatherapist specialising in burnout, where stress is overlooked and the body can't cope. She also trained in Pulse Wave Screening. "It's not until something's really wrong that people get referred by their doctor for an ECG or an angiogram. But this test tells you what's up ahead. It could save your life".

My own test results in November have proved the long-needed motivation to take up jogging and cut the crap out of my diet. I walk the dog every day and instead of working late into the night the laptop gets closed at 7pm. I still get stressed out, but becoming better at time management means I'm not 'on call' at all hours. I even actually speak to my family occasionally. We can get stressed or we can decide to switch it off. Much better than getting to the point where it switches us off.