Can Stress Cause a Stroke?

Expert tips on how to de-stress while you're on the job
Stressed at Work? You May Have a Higher Risk of Stroke

It’s known that stress from work is bad for your health, including causing an increase in your risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly high blood pressure and heart disease.

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If you’ve wondered specifically if stress can cause a stroke, too, the answer is unfortunately, yes.

“There has been mounting evidence exploring stress as a risk factor for stroke — especially stress related to your job,” says neurologist Irene Katzan, MD.  “Several studies now link work stress to an increased risk of stroke in adults.”

How stress can cause a stroke

Exactly what happens when you get stressed depends on what other factors you’re experiencing too. Stress can work to trigger medical problems or alongside other medical afflictions that cause a stroke.

“Often stress, when combined with other factors, leads to triggers for disease,” Dr. Katzan says.

“Sometimes stress can cause inflammation, hypertension, or other vascular conditions — and it’s these that can lead to stroke or heart attack.”

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What research shows about stress at work

Increasing levels of psychosocial distress (like the kind you get from pressures at work) are related to the risk of both fatal and nonfatal stroke in adults.

In one study, researchers in China compiled data from six studies with 138,782 participants. Researchers evaluated the link between job stress and future stroke risk. The study, which appears in the journal Neurology, shows that stroke caused by stress is indeed possible — and any stress is harmful to your health and should be taken seriously.

It looked at two dimensions of work — psychological job demand and job control. Psychological job demand was identified as time pressure, mental load and level of responsibility while job control was identified as one’s control over their decisions.

Researchers found that jobs with high demands and low control (such as a waitress or nurses’ aide) were associated with a 22% increased risk of stroke compared with jobs with low demand and high control like an architect or natural scientist.

study in 2010 identified the 10 risk factors that are associated with 90% of the risks of certain types of stroke. Work-related stresses can trigger many of these —  particularly depression, hypertension, eating poorly, smoking, less time for exercise or alcohol abuse.

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In another study, higher levels of stress and depressive symptoms were linked to increased risk of what’s called “incident stroke” or TIA (transient ischemic attacks) in middle-aged and older adults.

Tips to de-stress at work

For many of us, stress at work is inescapable, but there are strategies you can use to reduce the pressure on your mind and body.

”Since stress leads to unhealthy behaviors getting ahead of those behaviors is key to reducing your risk for stroke,” Dr. Katzan says. “You can take steps while on the job to take the tension down a notch.”

Here are some simple ways to de-stress at work and at home:

  • Breathe deeply, meditate or try yoga to supply much-needed oxygen to the brain and enhance your physical capabilities.
  • Use calming apps or music to enhance your mood.
  • Get up and move several times during the workday or create an attainable exercise program you can do before or after your workday.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol.
  • Make sure you find time to cook or bring a healthy lunch or after-work dinner.
  • Liven up your space with plants and soft colors to help create a pleasant space to engage with your work.
  • Focus on one task at a time and recognize when you finish tasks as multitasking can often cause an increase in your stress level. 

“The most important is to zoom out every once in a while, avoid unhealthy behaviors, develop healthy eating habits and do some kind of physical activity every day,” she says. “If your job is highly-stressful make sure to stay mindful of your blood pressure and see your doctor if your stress becomes unmanageable.”

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