In Japanese, there is a word “karoshi”, or “death by overwork.” Can silent stress really kill? Finnish researchers decided to find out. In the years of 1991 to 1993, Finland was hit by a serious financial crisis, unemployment rates tripled to 17 percent. Those who survived the downsizing had to assume greater workloads. During this period and for seven years afterward, teamed with a M.D, psychologist Mika Kivimaki at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health followed municipal workers who survived the cutbacks in for towns—from the mayor on down to teachers, nurses and janitors. The conclusion is short and clear “The only difference in mortality was in cardiovascular deaths. Those in work units with the most downsizing suffered twice the death rate from heart attack and stroke.”
Does this conclusion sound applicable to the situation many people are facing now? Countries in the western world are suffering now from the financial setbacks and unemployment rate are high. Numerous reports have already delivered the similar conclusions. It looks like that when it comes to the health issues, no major changes are seen over times.
It should come as no surprise that emotions affect the heart-and not only in metaphorical terms. Suffer a fright, and your heart begins to pound. Get angry, and the blood pressure rises. Scientist told us that men with type A personalities—hard-charging, competitive and hostile—were more likely to suffer heart attacks. Now scientists are using high-tech instruments to elucidate the mind-body connections that damage the heart.
Study after study has now confirmed that factor like social isolation; depression and poor marital relations can contribute to heart disease. Patients who are depressed at the time of bypass surgery are more than twice as likely to die in the next five years as patients without clinical depression. Heart attacks survivors who live by themselves die at twice the rate of those who live with others. “They’re heartbroken in more ways than one.”
At every stage of heart disease, state of mind appears to play a role. It’s most obvious in the later phases, where one can easily tally up heart attacks and deaths. Also, it is reported that couples with no history of heart trouble who were hostile or domineering in their interactions over money, kids, inlaws and household chores are more likely to have the heart system damages. The more strained their relationships, the more severe this silent atherosclerosis tends to be.
The implications are dramatic-not only for our risks of developing heart disease, but also for treating it. Although many doctors are using lifestyle programs to help heal heart disease, Dr. Dean Ornish, (the leading proponent of an ultra-low fat diet), said that a stringent diet and regular exercise are two pillars of his approach. But stress management is equally important. He insists that stress reducers like yoga, meditation and group sharing have direct effects on cardiac risk, lowering levels of stress hormones and helping to relax arteries. “Diet and exercise alone are like a two-legged stool,” says Dr. Redfor Williams, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University. “It’s more stable with the third leg, stress management.”
No one is entirely risk-free, however, given that heart disease is still the nation’s leading killer, we could all benefit from an ounce of the knowledge. Major lifestyle changes may elude those direct risks, but even 10 minutes of meditation a day can help with prevention; Doctors say consistency of practice is more important than duration. And we can all gain by nurturing close relationships. “Simply looking at the picture of someone you love can help dampen stress response,” an expert says.
All these researches are only to show, as the Bible stated long ago in Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine.” And that’s reason for all of us to take heart.