Stress to Wellness: How Stress Affects Your Heart

By: Betsy Bartlett

Between American Heart Health Month + Valentine’s day, this month is all about the heart. But, don’t forget about showing the love to yourself!  I recently read an article about a very well known (some would say celebrity) fitness guru who had a nearly fatal heart attack during a CrossFit workout at his own gym. So, how exactly does an in-shape, avid gym-goer end up having a cardiovascular problem??

The Culprit:

The heart attack he survived is referred to as the “widow maker” because only about 6 – 10% of people actually survive one. Fortunately, he did survive. After overcoming the fear of judgement from the public because of his celebrity and the fear that his own heart could betray him, he began talking frankly about the root cause of his heart attack: STRESS!

All too often, we put a great deal of emphasis on diet and exercise in order to maintain good heart health. The problem is that we forget about the mental and emotional aspects of our wellbeing!  We strive to be perfect, saying things like “I’ve got to have perfect abs” or “I cannot eat that”.  This happens so often that we forget about being kind and practicing self-forgiveness.  So what can you do?

Take the time to find something in your life that brings you joy.

It doesn’t matter if its yoga, meditation, walking your dog, volunteering, reading a book or listening to music. Once you find that one activity that allows you to unwind, be kind to yourself by making time to do this at least once each day.  Just so I don’t sound too “frou-frou” here is the science behind the importance of stress reduction as it relates to your heart:


The Facts:

We’ve all heard of “Type A” personality, but did you know that term was coined in the 1960s?  Cardiologists Meyer Friedman & Ray Roseman conducted studies in 1964, 66 & 69, where they characterized ‘coronary-prone behavior pattern Type-A’ because these particular individuals due to personality traits were more susceptible to Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). These personality traits or styles of living are characterized by extremes of competitiveness, striving for achievement, aggressiveness, haste, impatience, restlessness, hyperalertness, explosiveness of speech, tenseness of facial musculature and feelings of being under pressure of time and under challenge of responsibility.(3)  If none of things describe you, then CONGRATULATIONS!  But for those of us that are “Type A” reducing daily stress is one of the best ways to show love to our hearts.

Many of the stress studies over the last 10–15 years have utilized two primary indices of disease, coronary heart disease (CHD) and mental ill health (MIH). Trials on stress reduction with the meditation have reported improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors, surrogate end points and significantly reduced risk for mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke in coronary heart disease patients. These changes were associated with lower blood pressure and psychosocial stress factors.(1)  In another study subjects were exposed to a controlled stressor, one that  caused significant increases in subjective anxiety, heart rate, and systolic blood pressure in males and females. These stress-induced increases were each prevented by exposure to music, and this effect was independent of gender.(2)



There are countless studies on the benefit of stress reduction on CHD, so again, go forth and find your happy place and start taking care of you so that you can continue to show kindness to others.





  1. Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, Randomized, Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation and Health Education in Blacks. Robert H. Schneider, Clarence E. Grim, Maxwell V. Rainforth, Theodore Kotchen, Sanford I. Nidich, Carolyn Gaylord-King, John W. Salerno, Jane Morley Kotchen, Charles N. Alexander. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2012;5:750-758
  2. Relaxing Music Prevents Stress-Induced Increases in Subjective Anxiety, Systolic Blood Pressure, and Heart Rate in Healthy Males and Females, Wendy E. J. Knight  Nikki S. Rickard, PhD, Journal of Music Therapy, Volume 38, Issue 4, 1 December 2001, Pages 254–272,
  3. From Stress to Wellbeing, Volume One. Cary L. Cooper