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Is Defensiveness Damaging Your Heart?

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Stress. It’s everywhere. No matter where you turn, we seem to live a life filled with stress. Some stressful events may also trigger deep feelings of the need for self-preservation or defensiveness.

Most of us have experienced feeling defensive at some point of time in our lives. Often it comes as a response to a less than perfect evaluation at work, or perhaps a criticism which we viewed as unfair, or unwarranted, from someone who didn’t have all the facts. Regardless of the source, defensiveness is a powerful self-preservation emotion. Unfortunately, just as stress is not a heart healthy emotion, recent research indicates feelings of defensiveness may also be equally damaging to your heart, especially for women.

A recent Canadian study found that defensiveness may be damaging to heart health of certain groups of people. The study was conducted by researchers from the Université de Montréal and the Montreal Heart Institute who worked with researchers at Université du Québec à Montréal and McGill University. The study followed a group of 199 men and women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age. All participants were healthy at the start of the study and all participants were employed. More women participated in the study than men, with 118 participants being women and 81 men.

During the course of the study, participants were required to complete four different stressful assignments. Each assignment or task varied in the amount of stress and defensive reactions to the stress which they were designed to invoke. The tasks ranged from a neutral stress situation to aggressive to controversial and adversarial. Each subsequent task was more stressful than the previously completed task. For example, the first task was the least stressful or threatening with participants merely reading a geography text about Antarctica. This was read in front of another participant of the same gender. From neutral reading, the tasks progressed to scripted role-playing (Tasks 2 and 3) in which the participants sometimes found themselves in very aggressive situations.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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