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May 2023

Manage Stress to Lower Your Stroke Risk

Under pressure? You’re not alone—1 in 4 Americans say they’re so stressed they can barely function.

A new worldwide study highlights the health consequences of all that tension. Researchers found that stress at home, at work, or with money can lead to strokes. In fact, facing several trying periods increases the risk of having a stroke.

The findings sound an alarm—but also offer hope. While some stressors are beyond your control, you can work to address others. Plus, developing healthy coping skills can strengthen your resilience and protect your health. 

How stress can cause strokes

Strokes occur when blood flow to your brain is limited. Sustained stress can contribute by changing the way your cardiovascular and nervous systems function. For instance, experts hypothesize that prolonged stress may cause plaque to build up in your arteries, narrowing them. Plaque may become damaged or rupture. A blood clot then forms and blocks the artery. Or the clot moves to other parts of the body such as the brain, causing a stroke.

A sudden stressor, meanwhile, could cause blood vessels to constrict further.

Over time, stress may contribute to strokes indirectly, too. Some people may choose harmful ways of coping or they may fall away from healthy lifestyle habits. For instance, they may drink more alcohol or stop exercising, both of which also raise stroke risk.

Build your resilience

You can’t eliminate every challenge in life—nor would you want to. Overcoming obstacles encourages growth. The key is to change what you can and develop skills to better withstand the rest. Here’s how:

  • At home. Remove extra, unnecessary stressors. For instance, you might lower standards around housecleaning or enlist family members to help with chores. Prioritize healthy habits, such as physical activity and good sleep, which both defuse stress and reduce stroke risk.

  • With money. Take stock of your situation. Make plans with your family for budgeting and saving. If necessary, reach out to utilities or your credit card company about payment plans

  • At work. The more control you have on the job, the less stress you’re likely to feel. Ask your employer about options, including flexible working hours. If your workplace has problem-solving committees, ask to join them.

  • Anywhere. Build a support system of people you trust. Reaching out to friends, family, and mental health professionals, when needed, creates a buffer against stress and its effects.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2023
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