The Connection Between High Anxiety and Stroke

Posted by Dave Tomar on February 07, 2014

The Connection Between High Anxiety and Stroke

We all get stressed out. It’s part of being human. Whether you’re carrying a heavy workload, mending a strained personal relationship or steering around a financial bump in the road, you’re going to experience anxiety in life. But how you handle that anxiety could have a huge impact on your health.

In fact, according to psychiatric researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, chronic high anxiety can substantially heighten your risk of stroke.

Stressing to Death

Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S., resulting in roughly 130,000 fatalities every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Those who live with anxiety day-in, day-out may be at an especially high risk of being included in this statistic.

According to the University of Pittsburgh study, those with the highest levels of anxiety are 33% more likely to suffer a stroke in the future than are their less tightly wound contemporaries. With 20 percent of American adults and a quarter of children and teens suffering from Anxiety Disorders, a large cross-section of the U.S. is at an elevated risk.  In fact, according to the University of Pittsburgh study, for every standard deviation increase in anxiety, an individual’s risk of stroke increased by a full 17 percentage points.  This is a correlation that is simply too great to ignore.

Living On Edge

We’ve known about the connection between high stress levels and heart disease for many years. However, the findings in the University of Pittsburgh study provide us with the most explicit connection yet between stress and stroke. The findings suggest that there are a number of reactions occurring within the body that can increase susceptibility. Among them, moments of heightened anxiety can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone called cortisol as well as to a process called hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. These processes are part of the body’s normal regulation of stress. However, sustained and particularly intense activation of these processes can cause impairment of the vascular system. This is what ultimately leads to the greater danger of stroke.

Not only that, says the study, but people with anxiety are likelier to engage in coping behaviors that might also elevate this risk. Among them, anxiety sufferers are more susceptible to nicotine addiction, insomnia, and poor diet and exercise habits, all of which can also increase the long-term likelihood of suffering a stroke.

Try Not To Worry

Obviously, for anxiety sufferers, this is potentially stressful information. But you should do your best to take it in stride. How you choose to manage this information, indeed, how you choose to manage your stress in general, could have a lot to do with your long-term health.

To reduce your likelihood of stroke, not to mention the various other health maladies associated with high levels of anxiety, you have to find effective ways of coping. There are many healthy ways to manage your stress levels. Among them, you might consider the following:

  • Consultation with a mental health professional
  • Breathing exercises aimed at enhancing calm
  • Engagement in an ongoing exercise routine
  • Participation in yoga or other meditative activity
  • Adoption of a hobby that promotes personal satisfaction

Or maybe all you really need is a good friend to listen while you vent your frustrations. Whatever works for you. If there’s an activity that helps you to reduce your stress levels, do it. Your health depends on it!


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