The simple thought of stress and what it might be doing to your health is now linked to heart disease, which leads researchers to look at relaxation and stress education as a form of preventative treatment.

The report, published in the European Heart Journal, found that even thinking about stress could create more stress. In addition, this increased perception of stress almost doubles the risk of a heart attack. Researchers followed more than 7,000 civil servants over a timespan of up to 18 years. The extensive study asked participants to report on certain lifestyle factors including smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and exercise, while also taking their medical background into account.

"We found that the association we observed between an individual's perception of the impact of stress on their health and their risk of a heart attack was independent of biological factors, unhealthy behaviors and other psychological factors," said lead author, Dr. Hermann Nabi from the Inserm Medical Research Institute in Villejuif, France.

Participants were on average 49.5 years old and asked to what extent they felt stress affected their health, while at the same time researchers monitored National Health Service (NHS) records to see how many fatal or non-fatal heart attacks had occurred.

"One of the important messages from our findings is that people's perceptions about the impact of stress on their healthy are likely to be correct," Nabi said. "This current analysis allows us to take account of individual differences in response to stress."

The extensive study suggests that taking a patient's perspective into account when managing stress-related health issues could be extremely beneficial, and new forms of treatment such as therapies could be the new medical advisement for those at risk for heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is a heart and blood vessel disease, which is often related to atherosclerosis, a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the narrow walls of arties, making it harder for blood to flow through. The obstruction of blood flow, often in the form of a blood clot, can cause heart attack or stroke. During a heart attack, parts of the heart muscle that rely on the arteries' oxygen-rich blood begin to die. Although many people survive their first heart attack, it is only a precursor for serious lifestyle adjustments. Strokes occur when there is a lack of blood and oxygen to the brain and brain cells die off, permanently altering the brain's capability to function.

Constant stress only increases the severity and possibility of heart disease. Participants in the study who felt stress was harming their health "a lot or extremely" were found to be at twice the risk for a heart attack compared to those who said stress didn't play a hugely negative role in their lives.

"The effect of stress on your body and heart is an extremely complex issue and it's something we don't yet fully understand," said Thembi Nkala of the British Heart Foundation. "Stress can make you smoke, eat and drink alcohol excessively so a healthy lifestyle, relaxation techniques and physical activity can be helpful."

Stress is a hard-wired reaction meant to protect the body against threats from predators. This primal instinct has evolved and adapted to what humans face on a daily basis. Stress can flood the body when faced with multiple demands each day, such as financial, personal, intellectual, and overwhelming workloads — even morning rush hour traffic can string a person out.

This chemical and natural biological occurrence also works as natural alarm system known as, "fight-or-flight reaction." The hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of the brain, sets the alarm off, which then stimulates the nerve and hormonal signal that sets the body in motion. Adrenaline is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, which increases the heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and delivers mass amounts of energy.

"These findings raise the possibility that the mere perception of stress can impact on heart healthy- but they also leave more questions than answers," said Nkala. "We'll need more research to unpick this complicated relationship further, but in the meantime it's vital everyone finds ways to unwind and decrease their daily stress levels."

The stress hormone responsible for threatening the heart is cortisol, and it does strange things to the body. Besides increasing the brain's use of glucose, it alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive and reproductive system. According to Mayo Clinic, long-term use of the stress-response system, and overdose of cortisol, has numerous consequences, such as heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, obesity, memory impairment, and worsening of skin conditions.

The report concluded, "Although stress, anxiety, and worry are thought to have increased in recent years, we found only participants who reported stress to have affected their health, 'a lot or extremely' had an increased risk of coronary heart disease."

The next step will be to set up randomized and controlled trials in order to evaluate if disease risk can be decreased by incorporating more clinical attention to those who complain that stress greatly affects their health.