By Paulette Flahavin
People who feel anxious and overwhelmed have a 27 per cent greater chance of suffering a heart attack, according to a new study.
The research, conducted by Columbia University Medical Centre scientists, was published in the American Journal of Cardiology.
The researchers examined six earlier studies that had questioned people on their perceptions of their stress levels, asking, for example, "How stressed do you feel?" and "How often are you stressed?".
The studies' participants were divided into groups according to their high or low stress scores and monitored for 14 years to keep track of any heart attacks. People who felt the greatest stress levels had a 27 per cent higher chance of suffering a heart attack.
The impact of stress was so great that the scientists likened it to smoking more than five cigarettes each day.
According to the author of this study, Safiya Richardson, "These findings are significant because they are applicable to nearly everyone.
"The key takeaway (message) is that how people feel is important for their heart health, so anything they can do to reduce stress may improve their heart health in the future."
Britain's number one killer is heart disease, with 270,000 people having a heart attack every year and close to one third of these people dying before they get to hospital.
The British Heart Foundation offers advice on stress, noting in particular that changes in lifestyle can help people feel better able to cope with some of life's demands.
A balanced diet and regular physical activity will also help cope with stress.
Crucially, when feeling stressed or anxious, it's important to learn how to relax - with some people finding physical activity, yoga or other relaxation techniques a huge help.