5. Stress and SCAD

Although it is only one factor in SCAD, stress may create a higher risk for SCAD, and can be a consequence of SCAD, too.  Learning how to cope with stress may help you avoid recurrence of SCAD, and has other benefits, too.

What is stress?

Stress is the process of physically, mentally, and emotionally adjusting to demands in the environment. Some stress can be adjusted to easily, but many or prolonged stressors are harder to adjust to and may be overwhelming.   Genetics, our own history of stress, and other factors affect how we adjust to stress.

What happens with too much stress?

Excessive stress can lead to disorders like anxiety, depression, and other physical ailments.

What’s the connection between stress and SCAD?

Stress is a well-established risk factor for heart attacks broadly, and is now considered a risk factor for SCAD, too. SCAD itself is very stressful, even for people who weren’t stressed prior to their SCAD. Given the unusual and unexpected nature of SCAD, the fact that SCAD often occurs in relatively young, otherwise healthy individuals, and the lack of information people often have about SCAD, it’s perhaps not surprising that SCAD is so stressful, and is associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression even compared to people who have had more “typical” heart attacks.

Why is that important? 

Many healthcare providers believe managing stress can be an important way to avoid the recurrence of SCAD.  In addition, effective management of stress can help your psychological well-being.

What about symptoms of anxiety and depression?

Anxiety and depression symptoms may be an important issue for SCAD patients, and it’s important to be aware of some of the most common symptoms that may occur.

Common symptoms of anxiety:

  • Excessive worry
  • Feelings of agitation or irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Panic attacks (intense fear, difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, nausea, shaking, sweating, feeling of being out of control)
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Irrational fears

Common symptoms of depression:

  • Sadness
  • Difficulty enjoying things that were enjoyable in the past
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Change in appetite or weight

Common symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

  • Experience of a traumatic event
  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive and distressing memories of the event,
  • Flashbacks
  • Difficulty sleeping, including nightmares
  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of reminders of the trauma
  • Increased irritability, jumpiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Easily irritated and angered

Test for Self-Awareness of Stress

One goal of stress management is to help you become more aware of…

  • The situations in which you are most likely to experience stress
  • Your typical reaction to stressful events
  • How your thoughts are related to how you feel
  • Ways in which stressful events shape your behavior as well as your sense of confidence and self-esteem.