Heart Skipping a Beat? It Might Be Stress, Not Love, APA Warns

ALBANY, NY (02/23/2009)(readMedia)-- Feeling a tug at your heart strings? It might be more than love, experts say. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, heart disease is the number one cause of death among women in the United States. While many factors, such as diet, physical activity, and genetics contribute to the onset of heart disease in women, stress plays a more significant role than any leading man.

According to the American Psychological Association's 2008 Stress in America survey, women report experiencing higher levels of stress than men--33 percent of women report an average stress level of 8 or above on a 10-point scale (vs. 27 percent of men). Furthermore, more women report experiencing physical symptoms of stress than their male counterparts, with 65 percent reporting irritability (55 percent of men) and 57 percent reporting fatigue (49 percent of men). In regard to the troubled economy, a major worry among all Americans, 83 percent of women cited money as a significant source of stress and 84 percent cited the state of our national economy (78 percent and 75 percent for men, respectively).

"The link between high levels of stress and heart disease is well-known and very real," says Dr. Peter S. Kanaris, the Public Education Coordinator for the New York State Psychological Association. "The good news is that by being proactive in their healthcare decisions and making healthy lifestyle choices women can successfully manage their levels of stress and minimize their risk of heart disease."

In fact, the tools used to prevent stress are also those often employed to prevent heart disease. A healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as well as regular physical activity, such as walking, yoga, or dance, all contribute to a healthy mind and body. Putting down that candy bar and turning off the TV may be the best thing you can do for yourself and your heart.

The New York State Psychological Association offers the following tips on how to manage your stress:

Understand how you experience stress. Everyone experiences stress differently. How do you know when you are stressed? How are your thoughts or behaviors different from times when you do not feel stressed?

Identify your sources of stress. What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family, health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else? Is there anything you can do to change the situation or reduce your stress?

Learn your own stress signals. People experience stress in different ways. You may have a hard time concentrating or making decisions, feel angry, irritable or out of control, or experience headaches, muscle tension or a lack of energy. Gauge your stress signals.

Recognize how you deal with stress. Determine if you are using unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking, drinking alcohol and over/under eating) to cope. Is this a routine behavior, or is it specific to certain events or situations? Do you make unhealthy choices as a result of feeling rushed and overwhelmed?

Find healthy ways to manage stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities such as meditation, exercising or talking things over with friends or family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Don't take on too much at once. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.

Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity. Ensure you have a healthy mind and body through activities like yoga, taking a short walk, going to the gym or playing sports that will enhance both your physical and mental health. Take regular vacations or other breaks from work. Women often take on too many responsibilities. No matter how hectic life gets, make time for yourself-even if it's just simple things like reading a good book or listening to your favorite music.

Reach out for support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to manage stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

To learn more about stress and mind/body health, visit the American Psychological Association's Help Center at www.apahelpcenter.org.


The New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA) is a private, non-profit professional association chartered more then 50 years ago. Its mission is to advance the science and practice of psychology while supporting excellence in education, training, research, advocacy and service. With more than 3,000 members, NYSPA is recognized as one of the strongest state psychological associations in the country because of its vigorous and sustained efforts on many areas of concern to psychologists and the public interest. NYSPA is affiliated with the American Psychological Association, representing over 160,000 psychologists, the American Federation of Teachers, representing over 1.3 million educators and health care professionals, and the New York State United Teachers, representing over 550,000 educators and health care professional in New York.