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People who feel more connected to others experience lower rates of anxiety and depression. 

Shaping Our Lives: Heart Health & Social Circles

Social connection improves physical and mental, and emotional well-being.

How crazy is it that people have the common recurring dream where they are somewhere important, but they forgot to put clothes on? Dreams, where people go to meetings or class naked, reveal a common type of stress we face daily. Psychosocial stress is anything that makes you concerned about your social status or social standing in a community. It can be when you feel like your self-esteem has been injured, or maybe you’ve been disrespected somehow. Psychosocial stress can happen nearly anywhere – work, school, faith communities, neighborhoods, social networks, etc. But especially for women, research suggests there are associations between psychosocial stress and female heart disease.

A recent study used longitudinal data from 80 female participants with a mean age of 64 when the study began. Then, researchers followed their lives, measuring job strain, social strain, and stressful life events. In the end, those women experiencing life stressors alone had a 12% increased risk for coronary heart disease. In comparison, those experiencing both job and social strain saw a 21% increase in risk for coronary heart disease. Social pressure created a 9% increase in risk, but when paired with job stress, the possibility of heart disease shot up. Job strain alone did not seem to increase risk, but it significantly impacted those already experiencing social strain.

The news that stress produces a fight-or-flight response in our bodies is not new information for many. Significant research attests to how stress overloads our immune systems and can have physical and mental impacts. But for women at risk of heart disease, consider ways to strengthen your community support. What makes you feel loved and appreciated by those around you? What helps you bloom where you are planted?

We know that diet, exercise, sleep, and hydration can help reduce stress, but connecting with friends and family who build you up and speak the truth about your perceived circumstances can also be an antidote to psychosocial stressors. Find your people who can affirm, “I see you!” when the going gets tough or “Me too!” in shared experiences. Staying connected isn’t only good for your emotional well-being – it could also mean a real “change of heart.”

Resources

Associations of Job Strain, Stressful Life Events, and Social Strain With Coronary Heart Disease in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study 

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