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The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women

Other Factors That Affect Heart Disease

Stress and Depression

Many women are concerned about a possible connection between stress and heart disease. Many studies do report a connection for both women and men. For example, the most commonly reported "trigger" for a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting event, particularly one involving anger. After a heart attack, people with higher levels of stress and anxiety tend to have more trouble recovering. Also, some common ways of coping with stress, such as overeating, heavy drinking, and smoking, are clearly bad for your heart.

But stress is not the only emotional influence on heart health. Depression, too, is common in both women and men after a heart attack or heart surgery. If you have had a heart attack or heart surgery and find yourself feeling depressed or "blue" for a long time afterward, or if the sad feelings are severe, talk with your doctor about ways to get help. Also keep in mind that support from family, friends, and other heart patients can help to improve mood and adjustment to the recovery process.

The good news is that sensible health habits can have a protective effect. Regular physical activity not only relieves stress and depression but also can directly lower your risk of heart disease. Research also shows that participating in a stress management program after a heart attack lessens the chances of further heart-related problems. Stress management programs, as well as support groups for heart patients, can also help you develop new ways of handling everyday life challenges.

Good relationships count, too. Developing strong personal ties reduces the chances of developing heart disease. Supportive relationships also help to prolong people's lives after a heart attack. Religious or spiritual beliefs and activity are also linked to longer survival among heart surgery patients.

Much remains to be learned about the connections among stress, depression, and heart disease, but a few things are clear: staying physically active, developing a wide circle of supportive people in your life, and sharing your feelings and concerns with them can help you to be happier and live longer.

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Last Updated: February 29, 2012

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