Is Stress the Number One Cause of Heart Attacks?

Mark Virkler's picture

I just finished the Kindle version of Is It Worth Dying For? by Robert Eliot MD, a cardiologist, who while lecturing on how to not have a heart attack, had one of his own in his mid-forties. In his book he reflects on the experience and states that “stress may be the greatest single contributor to illness in the industrialized world” (Kindle location 293). The first five chapters of his book explore what causes stress, and the remaining nine chapters are on how to manage stress. I learned a lot reading this book and can highly recommend it.


Many have told me their heart attack was brought on by stress. Mine was. The Bible speaks of “men’s hearts failing them for fear” (Lk. 21:26) and fear surely is a significant form of stress. I had allowed fear to enter and I experienced the natural consequence of this emotional unrest.

My brother died of cancer at 57 years of age, just two years after retiring from a job where he experienced several years of extreme stress. Unfortunately he chose to stick with his job until retirement age rolled around so he could collect his full benefits. Unfortunately, he did not live to enjoy his retirement. A co-pastor in the church I worked at years ago was fired abruptly. This was a severe emotional blow to her and within months she died of cancer.

So we see that stress not only damages our heart, it causes the breakdown of our immune system, which in turn allows cancer to grow.

The role of stress according to Dr. Eliot

“The major traditional risk factors—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and smoking—fail to explain approximately half of the worldwide cases of coronary heart disease. There is good reason to believe that stress is a major missing piece in this puzzle. Moreover, researchers are increasingly recognizing not only that stress is an independent contributor to heart disease, but also that it is closely interwoven with the five traditional risk factors. Controlling unnecessary stress may therefore be the single most important key to preventing heart attacks(Kindle location 296). You can monitor your stress and heartbeat with a simple home device.

The mechanics of stress according to Dr. Eliot

“At the lab, I analyzed autopsies of workers who had dropped dead without warning. What I found suggested that adrenaline and other stress chemicals had spewed into their bodies with such strength that they had literally ruptured the muscle fibers of their hearts. It appeared that the brain had the power to trigger heart-stopping emotional reactions to stress” (Kindle location 311).

“Hot Reactors”  have the highest risk of a heart attack

Dr. Eliot states that “Hot Reacting” is an extreme cardiovascular response to stressful tasks … Who Are the Hot Reactors? These are people who overreact to stress with extreme blood pressure and chemical changes. Such people endanger themselves by expending enormous energy. They burn a dollar’s worth of energy for a dime’s worth of stress” (Kindle locations 623,630).

For hot reactors, blood pressure and heart rate jump to dangerous levels when any kind of stress appears. I would suggest this extreme physiological response is because of an extreme emotional response. I understand emotions to be byproducts of the pictures we are looking at and the beliefs we are holding. Thus I want to identify and replace the pictures I am gazing at and the beliefs I am holding.

Learning to be a “Cool Reactor”

Crucial questions to ask are: “Lord, why do I feel such intense stress at this exact point? What am I picturing/thinking that is producing such widely exaggerated feelings? Where am I insecure and thinking the worst? What are the lies I am believing that are hindering me from living in Your Kingdom realities of joy, peace, compassion, gratitude and thankfulness?” Getting these answers and then repenting for agreeing with the lies of the accuser and deceiver who has come to kill, steal and destroy is key to becoming a cool reactor.

Follow-up questions: “Lord, what do You want me to believe and picture that will restore my heart to peace and restore me to abiding in You? What will make me less of a workaholic, allow me to enjoy life more and worry less?" Get these answers written down and visible. Then practice them intentionally for at least six weeks. Establish a new pattern and lifestyle.

For example

I could believe lies are more powerful than truth, that acting in evil ways takes one to the top and that the righteous become the underdogs. These beliefs and pictures can produce a strong set of inflammatory emotions which damage health and heart. If I believe that truth wins over error and God rules over satan, and the righteous win and are elevated by God, then these beliefs and pictures can produce a peaceful set of Kingdom emotions which promote health and strengthening of one’s heart.

Removing Stress

If I can identify the emotional setbacks which occurred in the days, weeks and months before a heart attack (or before any physical or emotional ailment struck), I have the clues as to how to get back on the path of life. We repent of ungodly responses, embrace godly responses and get restored to a fullness of health.

Specifics: Have an attitude of leisure as we work and play. Spend more time playing, being spontaneous, having fun and being supported by friends. Incorporate deep breathing from the abdomen, smile, relax, visualize Jesus at our right hand (Acts 2;25; Ps. 16:8), eat a healthy, organic, non-GMO diet, stretch, exercise, take extra nutrition and do anything else God leads us to as we maximize health.

Those who live in the state of happiness tend to die of old age, with less than 1% of them dying of cancer or heart disease.

What I believe about stress is more damaging to my health than stress itself

Watch this amazing 15 minute Ted Talk video. This video is the 20th in a list of the 25 most viewed TED talk of all time.


Let Kingdom emotions be your carrier waves to Kingdom health
(Compassion, joy, peace thankfulness - Matthew 14:14; Romans 14:17)


Cardiac Event Series

  1. How Could I Have Been So Wrong?
  2.  Biblical Truths Related to Heart Disease
  3. Causes of Heart Disease: Inflammation, Oxidation, Sugar and Stress 
  4. Drugs, Nutrition and the Lord 
  5. Is Stress The Number One Cause Of Heart Attacks?
  6. Ever So SLOWLY Learning About Blood Pressure
  7. Common Denominators of Great Diets
  8. God Says I’m Healed Yet Symptoms Persist
  9. Symptoms Go into Remission as I Speak to My Body
  10. Does Heart Surgery Cause the Heart to Pick Up A Spirit of Fear  
  11. Must I Work Hard To Be Successful?
  12. Which of The 10 Commandments Can You Break And No One Raises An Eyebrow?
  13. Experience Rest By Learning How To Delegate 
  14. Living In Rest Requires Living At Peace With Myself and Others 
  15. For Heaven’s Sake, Celebrate!
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4 Keys to Hearing God's Voice

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40% off the suggested retail price!

For the first time EVER! Hardcover copies of 4 Keys to Hearing God's Voice. This is a magnificent, beautiful gift to give for any occasion. Retailing at $24.95, you can purchase it through our website at only $15.00! Bless people with the gift of spiritual intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ. Get a souvenir copy for yourself. Only 600 copies produced, so order while supplies last!

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4 Keys to Hearing God's Voice Audio CD Package

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4 Keys to Hearing God's Voice DVD Package

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By Mark Virkler | 4 Keys book | 10 hours of DVDs | LEARN notebook

Have you ever wished you could just sit down and have a long talk with the Lord? Wouldn't it be wonderful to move beyond having a theology that states that God loves you to actually hearing Him whisper words of love into your heart? When you're worried or confused, wouldn't you love to see the situation from His perspective and hear how He wants you to respond? When things don't seem to be going your way and your prayers aren't answered the way you had hoped, wouldn't it be great to hear Him tell you where He is in the midst of it, and what He is working out in your life? Are you ever just a little bit jealous of others who say with such confidence, "The Lord said...."?

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Hear God's Voice Guaranteed Package

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9 Books, 10 CDs, 10 DVDs now at a $30+ savings

Have you ever wished you could just sit down and have a long talk with the Lord? Wouldn't it be wonderful to move beyond having a theology that states that God loves you to actually hearing Him whisper words of love into your heart? When you're worried or confused, wouldn't you love to see the situation from His perspective and hear how He wants you to respond? When things don't seem to be going your way and your prayers aren't answered the way you had hoped, wouldn't it be great to hear Him tell you where He is in the midst of it, and what He is working out in your life? Are you ever just a little bit jealous of others who say with such confidence, "The Lord said...."?

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