(CBS) – It’s National Wear Red Day, part of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease in women. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association, and stress is a risk factor for women.
Marie Challinor works in sales and merchandising in the garment industry. The 63-year-old says trying to land big accounts is a high-energy, high-stress job. “I work with buyers, I work with catalogs, I do a little bit of traveling and trade shows, so it’s nonstop,” she says. Challinor says stress has taken a toll on her heart. She has high blood pressure and an abnormal heart rhythm. She suffered a stroke five years ago. Challinor says, “If you find something wrong with your heart, like mine was beating very quickly constantly, I just thought I was stressed out. Don’t let it fool you.”
Dr. Icilma Fergus is a cardiologist with the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. She says, “When we’re looking at the newer risk factors for heart disease in women, stress is listed as one.”
More and more studies show stress can impact a woman’s heart differently than a man’s, especially when it comes to work stress and marital stress. “Stress increases the so-called ‘flight and fight’ hormones,” Dr. Fergus says, “and what this does: It increases your heart rate, increases your blood pressure.” Dr. Fergus says people who are stressed out are also more likely to overeat, smoke, and be physically inactive – all habits that can increase heart disease risk.
Studies show women report higher stress levels than men and are more likely to say their stress levels are increasing. Some things that can help: Getting regular exercise, practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing, and sleeping six to eight hours a night.
Challinor is doing all she can to cope with her stress. “I went back to yoga, I make sure I have my vegetables and my fruit at least two, three times a day,” she says, “and I count to 10 and then I walk away if something bothers me.” She wants other women to know that finding ways to relieve stress can save your life.