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Stress threatening Canadians health, Heart and Stroke Foundation warns - February 2000

TORONTO, February 2, 2000: Despite the stresses imposed on them by todays hectic lifestyles, Canadians demonstrate a clear understanding that stress is bad for the stress is bad for the heart , according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

The Foundations Annual Report Card on Canadians Health found that close to half (43%) of all adults aged 30 and over are overwhelmed by either their jobs, families or finances.

"The report card gives Canadians mixed grades when it comes to stress," said Dr. Rob Nolan, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson and stress expert. "These results should serve as a wake-up call for all Canadians given that almost one in two adult Canadians report being stressed on a frequent basis. We now know that stress, particularly in the workplace, wreaks havoc on the circulatory system, and can contribute to a heart attack or worse.">heart attack or worse.">heart attack or worse."


Proportion of Canadians Who:



Are not frequently stressed



Have enough quality time



Feel supported in the workplace



Cope well with stress



Know stress can lead to heart problems



The Heart and Stroke Foundation report card found that workplace stress was the most common source of stress, with almost one in three employed respondents (30%) reporting difficulty coping with the demands of their jobs on a regular basis. Family and money worries were not far behind: one quarter of respondents (26%) reported regular family stress, and one in five (21%) said they had financial stress.


Time pressures appear to be the prime contributing factor to high stress levels faced by Canadians today. "There simply arent enough hours in the day for most Canadians to accomplish all they want and need to do," said Dr. Nolan. "Over half -- 53 per cent -- of our national sample reported that they dont have enough time for their family, friends or partners, or to do the things they want to do. This can dramatically impact their quality of life." One interesting finding was that little difference exists between genders when it comes to feeling robbed of time, with one important exception stress caused by attending to the needs of family members was higher among women than men.

The report suggests that both women and men may be cutting out important aspects of their lives, such as hobbies or recreational sports, in an effort to meet the increasing demands of careers and families. "This can be a very unhealthy path to take," said Dr. Nolan. "Not only do time pressures squeeze out many of the joys in life, but they can also impact our heart health."

Close to one-third (30%) of survey respondents reported they had frequently lost sleep and/or felt nervous or stressed during the previous month.

Canadian men and women with children at home are more stressed than those with older children or without children. The Heart and Stroke Foundation found that 54% of parents with children under 17 reported frequent stress compared to 37% of those without children. Parents were also understandably more likely to face a time crunch.


Despite their harried lives, the vast majority of Canadians (80%) are aware that continual stress can substantially increase the chances of heart disease and stroke. In fact, those reporting frequent stress were more likely to believe that stress is linked to heart disease and stroke than those leading less stressful lives.

"Its reassuring to learn that so many Canadians are informed about the mind-body connection," said Dr. Paul Dorian, a Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson, cardiologist and co-author of A Change of Heart.  "On the other hand, its disturbing that so many of us continue to live under enormous stress, knowing how unhealthy it is."

Up to now, stress has been regarded as an indirect contributor to heart disease and stroke, for the most part. Research has shown that stress contributes to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, excessive eating particularly junk food and inactivity, all of which are hazardous to heart health.


The Heart and Stroke Foundation report card reinforced this connection. Almost three-quarters of respondents said they were likely to watch more television, eat comfort foods, smoke cigarettes or resort to alcohol to help control stress. Respondents who were under frequent stress were more likely to be smokers than those who reported infrequent stress (36% vs. 27%) and were more likely to eat fast foods three or more times a week (16% vs. 8%).

More recent research indicates that there may also be a direct cause and effect relationship between stress and heart disease.

"This emerging evidence suggests that stress aversely affects the circulatory system by increasing blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels. These effects are typically aggravated by poor lifestyle choices," explained Dr. Dorian. "In simple terms, constant stress can be destructive when it comes to your blood vessels and your heart, and can place you in one of the riskiest categories for a heart attack."

In fact, one recent study found that stress responses were associated with the same degree of risk for atherosclerosis ( plaque build-up in the plaque build-up in the arteries ) as smoking and elevated cholesterol in younger men. "It may well be that in future stress will be considered as a risk factor on a par with other known traditional risk factors ," said Dr. Dorian.


Although stress is unhealthy in any environment, the research is strongest for workplace stress. "Several international studies have clearly shown that stress on the job can double the risk of heart attack," said Dr. Susan Abbey, a Foundation spokesperson and psychiatrist. "Workers who have little control in their jobs but are under great pressure, are at an increased heart risk brought about by stress."

An even greater health risk factor from workplace stress may be the lack of social support. "Workers who have nobody to talk to about their problems or stresses appear to be at very high risk for heart-related problems," said Dr. Abbey. "They may feel increasingly isolated and lonely, which in turn increases their stress levels and heart risks even more."

The Heart and Stroke survey affirmed the need for more stress-busting efforts in the work place. It found that 31% of those faced with frequent job stress reported they received little or no support from their co-workers. However, on the positive side, 76% of respondents reported they frequently have a friend or partner to talk to when worried or upset.

While it may not be possible to quit your stressful job, or hire live-in help to deal with demands on the homefront, there are ways to minimize the effects of stress, said Dr. Abbey. "One of the best antidotes to stress is physical activity, even just a brisk walk outdoors."

Canadians under pressure can also consider relaxation techniques such as biofeedback, meditation, yoga and relaxation breathing. They should seek professional help if stress levels severely impair their daily function or the ability to cope.

"Stressed out adults also must be careful not to turn to poor lifestyle habits like smoking, having a drink or resorting to junk food as a quick-fix," said Dr. Abbey. "These stress relievers, while they may appear to help control stress temporarily, are actually not helpful in the long run and are extremely detrimental to their health."

According to Dr. Abbey, the first step to effectively managing stress is to identify the top sources of stress in your life. "Become familiar with your personal warning signs of stress is the stress impairing or impacting your physical well being? Is it affecting your thoughts, your feelings or how you behave? Ask yourself if its a stress you can change and if so, plan to do this in slow, small steps." If its a stress you cant change, however, Dr. Abbey encourages you to find a way to respond to it differently. And if youre not sure what to do, ask others for their input.

To help Canadians examine their personal stress levels and sources of stress, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is offering the Heart & Stroke 60-Second Stress Test, available via its toll-free number: 1-888-HSF-INFO, or on-line via its website: ( In addition to the stress test, the Foundation offers a number of resources to help Canadians manage their stress.

For more information:

Elissa Freeman
Heart and Stroke Foundation
416-489-7111 ext 316
416-489-5123 (fax)