DiscoverHealth

Woman stressed, rubbing her temples

A heavy heart

Lately, you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Your responsibilities at work have increased, those holiday credit card bills are coming in, and your youngest is struggling at school.

With all this stress, sometimes it feels like you can’t catch your breath.

But, it’s important to stop and take care of yourself, as chronic stress can cause long-term damage to your body and contribute to heart disease.   

Stress affects every system in our bodies, as well as negatively affecting our minds, emotions and behaviors.

Stress has been shown to increase our levels of cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine. These “fight or flight” chemicals increase blood pressure and heart rate, which puts strain on our hearts. Stress and pressure also increase our blood sugar.

Types of Stress

There are different types of stress, and not all stress is bad. In some instances, stress serves as a motivator to help us perform well. In dangerous situations, stress prepares our body to face a threat or flee to safety.

Other types of stress include:

  • Daily stressors which include pressures of work, school, family or other routine responsibilities.
  • Individual stressors which include losing a job, divorce, loss of a loved one, or illness.
  • Traumatic stressors which include natural disasters, war, assault or major accidents. 

Traumatic stresses are generally temporary and some people may experience temporary symptoms of mental illness, but most recover naturally after these events.

Are there long term consequences of stress?

Stress can have lasting, chronic effects. Over time, this continued stress response causes strain on our bodies and may contribute to serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression or anxiety.

Chronic stress can also suppress our immune systems and disrupt our sleep, digestive and reproductive systems.

It is important to know your body and recognize its response to stress. This could include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased alcohol or other substance use
  • Feeling depressed
  • Easily angered
  • Low energy levels

You may be able to manage stress with healthy behaviors, including:

  • Nutritious foods
  • Exercise
  • Engaging in hobbies
  • Staying connected with friends
  • Yoga and meditation

During Heart Month in February, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System has several heart-related events to help you learn how to protect your heart. Visit SpartanburgRegional.com/Events for more information.

Need to talk?

If you feel overwhelmed, are using drugs or alcohol to cope, or feel that you cannot cope any longer, you should seek help right away. If you or a loved one have thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). All calls are confidential and the line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.