Americans are more stressed out than ever.
The American Psychological Association has released a “Stress in America” report for the past decade. The latest report shows that in 2016, we had a jump in overall stress levels… the first such movement in 10 years.
Think about that… During the 2008-2009 financial crisis, we didn’t see this kind of jump in stress levels. The market bombed, banks went out of business, Main Street burned up in a terrible fire… but stress didn’t increase. Compare that with today… The market is hitting all-time highs, the economy growing, and stress is only increasing! What happened?
Worries about the economy, terrorism, and mass shootings are now the top three stressors. And a majority of folks, regardless of their political leanings, said the future of the nation was a “significant” source of stress.
We’ve known about the link between stress and heart disease for a long time… Heart patients often hear “don’t get too emotional” or “avoid stressful situations” so they don’t trigger a heart attack.
But some stressors can’t be avoided…
A study out earlier this year showed us something fascinating about how stress affects us. This study is the first of its kind… using tracking imaging that shows the connections between stress, inflammation, and heart disease.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital scanned the brains of nearly 300 participants to measure activity in their amygdalae. They also measured levels of inflammation in their arteries.
They then followed those folks for another two to five years and measured cardiac events. These included stroke, heart attack, or chest pains.
Stress triggers certain immune responses, including the production of white blood cells. These cells then go on to trigger inflammation.
The results showed this link between amygdala activity and inflammation, as well as an increase in heart problems. Here’s the key finding: The more stress you face, the more inflammation surfaces in your body, and the more likely you are to have a heart attack.
We already know that inflammation causes heart disease. It’s something I’ve said for years, before anyone in the medical field took the idea seriously.
This study is yet another piece of evidence coming out that I was right.
Last year, we wrote about a major problem facing women with symptoms of heart disease. Too often, doctors misdiagnose these women, saying their heart disease is “just” anxiety.
As we explained, a study in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes demonstrated that women with anxiety are 75% more likely to have heart disease. But bias persists in the medical community that women who experience these symptoms – and have few risk factors for heart disease – most likely have an anxiety disorder, nothing more.
But it’s a cyclical problem. Researchers from Johns Hopkins wrote that anxiety is a contributing factor to heart disease. The constant stress from anxiety makes your heart race and your blood pressure rise, both of which damage your heart over time.
Now we know it isn’t just that stress increases blood pressure – it also directly increases inflammation that attacks your heart.
We’ve recommended some good strategies for managing stress. Meditation, yoga, and good-quality sleep are all important steps to take.
Taking these steps, especially meditation, starts your body’s relaxation response – a method discovered by Dr. Herbert Benson. Turning on your relaxation response helps lower metabolism, slow your heart and breathing rates, and reduce blood pressure.
Meditation is the best, but if you aren’t sure how to get started or want something a bit easier, try some breathing exercises like these:
1) The 4-7-8 method. Inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Do this cycle four times.
2) Count your breaths. You can also go for a longer period and count your breaths. Always count as you exhale. Take five breaths and then start over with “one” again. Don’t go over five. This is a good way to keep your focus – if your thoughts become distracted, you’ll find yourself counting past five. Set a time to do this simple breathing meditation for at least 10 minutes.
If you don’t manage your stress, it can kill you. That’s why we can’t emphasize the importance of lowering stress. Adding in these breathing exercises during the day can help, and we hope you make them part of your relaxation routine.
What We’re Reading…
- More on the new study, complete with one of the scans.
- Why women face misdiagnosis.
- Something different: Did you wear a Halloween costume to work today? If so, you might be happier than your co-workers.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
October 31, 2017