Strokes are frightening, no matter how you look at it. The third leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of disability, strokes happen when blood flow is interrupted in your brain (1).
While there are numerous factors at play in determining your risk for stroke – smokers, for example, are nearly twice as likely to suffer a stroke than non-smokers – but one recent study has focused on the impact that your emotional state has on your stroke risk.
The study followed over 6700 participants over the course of several years, eventually concluding that
“higher levels of stress, hostility, and depressive symptoms are associated with significantly increased risk of incident stroke or transient ischemic attacks in middle-aged and older adults.”(2)
The study, published in the journal Stroke, highlighted three emotional risk factors for stroke:
- Depression raises your stroke risk by 86 percent.
- Chronic stress increases your risk of stroke by 59 percent.
- Experiencing prolonged hostility doubles your chance of stroke.
Focusing On Non-Traditional Risk Factors
While it is important to take note of traditional risk factors for stroke like alcoholism, blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, some researchers fear that there is so much focus on these factors that lesser known risk factors, like a person’s emotional state, have gone under-researched. Yet, “these psychological characteristics are equally important”, says researcher Susan Everson-Rose.
It is possible, for example, for those experiencing depressive symptoms to manage their mood, or for those feeling a lot of stress to take steps to calm down and relax.
“It’s possible that positive coping strategies could ameliorate some of these associations or effects,” said one researcher on the study.
So how do you manage your emotional state in order to reduce your risk of stroke? Many doctors believe that the key is self-awareness – being able to recognize and interrupt negative thought patterns, avoiding anger and depression and thereby stopping your skyrocketing risk for stroke in its tracks.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt to practice mindfulness in order to reduce the amount of negativity and stress present in your thought patterns.
Some studies have even shown that mindfulness meditation can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. So, go ahead and meditate!