Negative emotions may all be in your head—as a life-threatening blood clot, that is. "Fifty years ago, people didn't consider psychiatric illness a medical illness," says Shyam Prabhakaran, M.D., head of cerebrovascular disease and neurocritical care at Rush University Medical Center. "Now we're realizing how interwoven emotions and pathology are."
Calm down, before you clot. "Ask doctors the risk factors for stroke, and they'll list blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease," says Howard Kirshner, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Stroke Center. "Ask a stroke victim, and they'll say stress." Uncontrolled stress can set you up for a brainclogging clot by raising blood pressure and making blood stickier. The key: Take control of your stress, and don't stroke out.
In a recent National Institute on Aging study, people who were antagonistic—in particular, manipulative or aggressive—had thicker carotid arteries than their easygoing counterparts. This normally takes years to develop, but even young aggressors showed thickening. "If severe enough, this can choke bloodflow to the brain, depriving it of oxygen," says Dr. Prabhakaran. "Cells in the brain die, and that's a stroke."
Loneliness may literally hurt your heart. A 4-year study of lonely adults conducted at the University of Chicago found that the loneliest folks experienced a 3.6-millimeter increase in systolic blood pressure every year, independent of BMI, smoking, or exercise habits. The likely reason: Loneliness is linked to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes blood pressure— and stroke risk—to rise.