Anxiety, depression linked to heart disease and stroke
Monarch psychiatrist shares ways to avoid stressors and environmental triggers
February is American Heart Health Month, and during this observance a study released by the American Heart Association (AHA) is connecting stroke and heart disease to high levels of anxiety.
The study is the first in which researchers linked anxiety and stroke independent of other factors such as depression. Anxiety disorders are one of the most prevalent mental health problems, and symptoms include feeling unusually worried, stressed, nervous or tense. According to the AHA, anxiety also increases the risk of heart disease – and heart disease patients who have anxiety are twice as likely at risk of dying from any cause compared to those without anxiety.
“Anxiety increases the heart rate which may increase blood pressure, which then can lead to increased risk of stroke and/or heart disease,” explained Dr. Sharyn Comeau, one of Monarch’s psychiatrists (pictured right).
People with high anxiety levels are also more likely to smoke and be physically inactive, possibly explaining part of the anxiety-stroke link. Higher stress hormone levels, heart rate or blood pressure could also be factors. Stroke is the fourth highest killer and a leading cause of disability in the United States.
Over a 22-year period, researchers studied a nationally representative group of 6,019 people 25-74 years old in the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Study participants completed a series of tests, including medical examinations and psychological questionnaires to gauge anxiety and depression levels. People in the highest third of anxiety symptoms had a 33 percent higher stroke risk than those with the lowest levels.
“Constant stress will decrease serotonin, which will cause anxiety problems, and when anxiety isn’t treated you become depressed. It’s a vicious cycle,” explained Comeau, who agreed reducing anxiety is a must, but said it is often hard in our fast-paced society.
Plus, our society’s constant need to be plugged in adds stressful environmental triggers. “With the use of technology there are no longer boundaries between work and home life, so people are on their computers and phones, working longer hours whether they realize it or not. There’s no time where work ends and relaxation begins,” Comeau explained.
Comeau shared ways to avoid anxiety and stress generated by daily life, including decreasing caffeine in the afternoon, having a similar routine and bed time every night, refraining from using email after a certain hour, decreasing the amount of stimuli before going to bed, and exercising regularly. She also recommended carving out time to “do nothing” which allows the brain to rest.
“We’re so motivated to succeed we don’t realize by stopping and being still we could actually become more creative,” she explained.
Pictured above: Dr. Sharyn Comeau, a Monarch psychiatrist.