Stress is a normal part of life—whether it's a stressful day at work, a sick family member, a job change, a divorce or any other normal change in your life, things happen to make us feel overwhelmed. 

It may not be possible to avoid stress, but at SIU Medicine, patients are encouraged to learn how to manage daily stress more effectively.

3 Surprising Effects of Stress

Excessive amounts of stress—or choosing the wrong stress management strategies, such as tobacco, alcohol or over-eating—can impact your life, and your heart, in many ways. For instance: 

  1. Too much stress can damage your immune system and increase your risk for certain health conditions, especially those impacting your heart health, like high blood pressure, heart attacks, colds, and depression and anxiety. 
  2. High-stress situations distract you from relationships, quality work performance and overall life satisfaction. 
  3. Stress often leads to poor sleep and cravings for sugary foods, which can contribute to weight gain and can cause other health issues like diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

Can you tell when you're stressed? Specific signs and symptoms can vary from person to person, but often include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Grinding teeth and clenching jaw
  • Aches and pains, especially in the neck and back
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Problems concentrating
  • Constipation, stomach aches and other gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Irritability, feeling easily annoyed or frustrated
  • Increased involvement in minor accidents or frequently feeling "clumsy" 
  • Excessive worrying, guilt or shame
  • Excessive gambling, driving recklessly or other impulsive behaviors

Top Tips to Reduce Stress

Coping with stress in a healthy way is a skill anyone can tackle. Test a variety of approaches to find the most effective strategy for you. These may include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Improved sleep (e.g., go to bed at the same time every day, avoid bright screens right before bedtime, sleep in a dark, cool room, etc.)
  • Reduction or elimination of alcohol and tobacco use
  • Meditation
  • Leisure hobby time (including playing with your kids and pets)
  • Breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Quality time with loved ones
  • Time management techniques
  • Talk with a therapist
  • Conflict resolution (with or without third-party mediation)
  • Medications, such as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications

Do You Need Help Reducing Stress? 

Stress is common, but it doesn't have to be something that holds you back from a fulfilling, productive and satisfying life. If you feel like you need help managing your stress or are interested in learning more effective coping skills, contact the behavioral health team at SIU Medicine. If your doctor recommended you see a cardiologist, SIU Medicine’s cardiology team can help. Call us at 217-545-8000. Everyone can benefit from learning how to manage stress in effective and healthy ways.

Topics: Cardiology, Heart Disease, Stress, Stress Management