The Connection Between Women, Stress & Heart Disease

It’s undoubtable that different kinds of stress affect you differently – but did you know that they have different effects on each gender, as well? Women are far more susceptible to the ill effects of emotional stress, especially. We are learning more and more the link between emotional stress and heart disease in women.

But struggling with stress doesn’t have to be the final word on heart health for you. There are ways to work through and conquer this all-too-common struggle to put you back in control of your own health.

Below you’ll see an explanation from a leading researcher about the unique relationship women have with emotional stress, and where science currently stands on understanding that link.

How Emotional Stress Affects Women Differently


When it comes to the effects of emotional stress on the heart, young men and women may not be created equal. Understanding the role of emotional factors—in particular psychological stress—on heart disease risk is a professional passion for longtime NHLBI grantee, Dr. Viola Vaccarino, a leader in women’s health research.

Q: What is the current state of the science regarding the relationship between emotional stress and heart disease in women?

A: There is growing recognition of the importance of emotional stress as a risk factor for heart disease. Compared to men, women have higher levels of psychological risk factors such as early life adversity, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. In addition, women are more prone to develop mental problems as a result of stress. Emotional or psychological stress potentially contributes to heart disease in many ways, from influencing heart disease risk factors, to affecting the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), to triggering heart attacks. It also may impair the recovery, future health, and quality of life of patients who have already developed the disease.

Emerging evidence suggests that young women are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of stress on the heart, which may result in earlier onset of heart disease or more negative health outcomes if the disease is already present.

– via

Emotional stress can start from any area of your life, but one of the most common sources is unquestionably the workplace. We’re all guilty of bringing our work home sometimes, but being aware of just how much emotional strain you endure from your job could be a vital factor in keeping yourself safe and healthy long term.

If you’re worried that your job and the stress it brings might be taking too much of a toll on your mind and body, consider the recommendations below. They may seem simple, but sometimes the simplest answer is the most powerful.

Today is the day to reconnect with yourself and truly figure out what YOU need to get back to your best self and your best life.

How Our Work Wears On Us

Harvard researchers have uncovered strong links between women’s job stress and cardiovascular disease. Findings from the Women’s Health Study (WHS) — a landmark inquiry into disease prevention involving more than 17,000 female health professionals — show that women whose work is highly stressful have a 40% increased risk of heart disease (including heart attacks and the need for coronary artery surgery) compared with their less-stressed colleagues. The results, which were presented at an American Heart Association meeting in 2010, also showed that women who worry about losing their jobs are more likely to have high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels and to be obese. These findings are especially distressing in the current economic climate.

The researchers used a definition of “job strain” that combines psychological demand and degree of control. Demand refers to the amount, pace, and difficulty of the work. Control means the ability to make work-related decisions or be creative at work.

What can you do?

The stress induced by excessive demands and too little control is not unique to the workplace. Many women have multiple concurrent jobs — for example, caring for children, aging parents, or other relatives while running a household and working outside the home — often without the resources to manage them all. Situations like this may be unavoidable, and in a tight job market, you may feel there’s little you can do to make your work life less stressful. Nevertheless, there are steps you can take, including these:

  • Foster mutually supportive relationships with friends, family, and co-workers.
  • Get regular exercise. It’s good for the heart, reduces anxiety and depression, and improves sleep.
  • Limit intrusions (such as work-related e-mails) on your life outside of work.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, or visualization.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek help from a mental health professional.

– via Harvard Health

What do you see as the biggest source of emotional stress in your own life? Have you tried any of the above suggestions to get your stress levels under control and better protect your heart?