Stress makes us sick – yet we don’t deal with it

Stress makes us sick – yet we don’t deal with it

Although stress can cause demonstrable damage to the body, including the cardiovascular system, the majority of patients do not make the connection between the two, nor do they pay much attention to their minds. “It’s a vicious circle, because stress can be the cause of the disease, and then the disease itself causes stress, and if we don’t deal with it, or if we try to find a solution to it with harmful means, the situation will only get worse,” says Barbara Mihálycsik, health psychologist at Hetényi Géza Hospital – Outpatient Clinic.

Barbara Mihálycsik, the latest guest of SZÍVSN’s lecture series, spoke to the participants about stress management. In her work in pulmonology and cardiology hospital wards, she has gathered a wealth of experience on what causes stress and how aware patients are of its importance. He has found that the majority of people do not associate their illness with it at all and are not very aware of the problem.

“Already after the lecture, many people reported back that they had just realised how much stress they had been under and must have had a role in their health. Yet we don’t address this. Even in the six-week rehabilitation, I have seen people come to see me for an hour a week, mild anxiety, depressive symptoms are common in patients, but basically stress is not dealt with. It’s also difficult to get them to wake up when they’ve been living with problems for 10-20 years, with a lifestyle pattern that has been built up over decades, it is difficult to change, especially for the older generation, to raise awareness that it can not only help in prevention, but can also significantly improve quality of life and life chances,” says Barbara, who says that although there is a public image of the overworked manager who suddenly has a heart attack, stress affects almost everyone in many areas of life, and of course the extent to which it affects who is very individual, as is the way in which people fight it. Often you don’t even know you’re trying to deal with it.

“Stress is an everyday phenomenon, our body’s response to difficulties, change, new situations – stress = the physical changes triggered by a stressful situation. Eustress (positive life event, but unknown, new situation that is challenging – wedding, new family member, new job, moving house), distress (stress in a negative life situation, need to be more prepared to overcome problems). Stress balance: if we are challenged just enough to cope, we can manage stress effectively and cope well. Stress is not only dangerous because many people try to relieve it by drinking alcohol, smoking, stress eating, other addictions that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, but it is also a risk factor in itself from a cardiological point of view – years, decades of exposure to stress can be a major risk factor.

from a cardiological perspective – years, decades of untreated stress can lead to fatal events such as angina, stroke or heart attack. The number of stress-related diseases is increasing (coronary heart disease, stroke, neurological problems, alcohol-related diseases), with cardiovascular disease being the most common group of diseases that can be triggered by a permanent state of stress. In such a state, blood pressure will be higher and the heart will beat faster. In the case of prolonged stress, these reactions may become permanent. Stress also causes serious damage to the immune system, which means that the body’s defences are weakened and it becomes susceptible to all other diseases. Almost all organs suffer serious damage. In the beginning, this damage can be reversed, but after a while it can only be alleviated by constant medication. When talking about stress, it is first of all necessary to clarify that there are short-term stress conditions and more permanent stress conditions. Short-term stress is not harmful in most cases. Once the danger has passed, the stressful state will also disappear without causing any pathological changes or permanent damage, and may even have a positive effect: our body will have a greater natural resistance, and it can be a driving force for adaptation and development. However, prolonged stress has a negative impact on our health, weakening our body’s resilience. If the stressor persists over a long period of time, our body adapts to the situation, eventually exhausting all its energy reserves, our body can become seriously ill,” explains the expert.


The most common symptoms of stress fall into 4 groups:

Physical signs:
Increasing frequency and severity of headaches in difficult situations
Muscle tension in the neck, back and shoulders
Skin problems (dryness, rashes, itching)
Stomach problems
Heart palpitations, chest pains
Emotional signs:
Constant depression, negative mood
Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
Exhaustion, listlessness
Feelings of alienation
Mental signs:
Loss of concentration
Inability to make decisions
Memory loss
Poor decisions, more frequent errors
Negative thoughts and self-image
Behavioural signs:
Sleep disturbance
Loss of appetite
Increased smoking, alcohol consumption
Decreased sexual interest
Neglect of social relationships
Find it difficult to relax/unable to stay in one place

Try to become aware of the symptoms and causes of stress as soon as possible

Do everything possible to reduce or eliminate the causes of stress

Managing stress

Identifying the causes of stress (sources of stress in different areas of life: home, work, internal factors)
prioritising triggers (unmanageable, partly manageable, manageable), thinking about what can be changed
Eliminate causes (finding the root cause makes it easier to find a solution, and more effective management of the situation reduces stress)
Getting help
Reorganising your lifestyle
Avoiding or reducing stressful situations
Signs and symptoms – what physical and mental symptoms do you notice when you are stressed?
Defensive strategies – what you do when stressed, what works, learning new skills
Changing your mindset (analysing and “reprogramming” negative thoughts)
Lifestyle reform (improving your health and resilience by changing your environment, eating and resting habits)
Healthy eating (eating a moderate, balanced diet, avoiding harmful addictions, reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption)
Regular exercise
One of the most effective weapons against stress – strengthens the heart, improves circulation, reduces tension
Goal: keep active as long as possible, personalised, regular exercise – best if it is also a fun, social activity (walking, swimming, dancing, gardening)
Rest and relaxation
There is a lot of pleasure to be gained from pursuing a hobby or favourite pastime
Maintaining a sleep cycle, improving sleep quality

Smoking: only relieves stress symptoms in the short term, makes things worse in the long term – not a cure, but a negative reaction

Stress in old age and stress management

Loss of a loved one, especially a partner
Loneliness (keeping in touch e.g. with a former colleague, finding new friends)
New situations (accelerated development) – learning and using new tools can be stressful (mobile phone, internet)
Acceptance of ageing – physical, mental, spiritual changes are difficult for many people to cope with, illnesses prevent them from doing activities they used to love (aim: find another activity that is easier to do)
Goal: delaying problems of old age by healthy living, maintaining mental, physical and emotional activity for as long as possible, open-mindedness
Preserving intellectual skills: talking, reading, cultural experiences, crosswords, board games, chess, cards, trying new activities
Avoiding isolation, loneliness, cultivating relationships, even finding new company
Finding tasks, activities, e.g. volunteering

Relaxation exercise

In a comfortable chair, in a spacious room

Close your eyes. Relax your body and quiet your mind. Concentrate on different parts of your body.
Pull your shoulders up. Let your muscles tense for 5 seconds, then relax. Now lower your shoulders, hold for 5 seconds and relax.
Now focus on your right arm. Bend your elbow so that your biceps tighten, hold for 5 seconds, then lower.
Make a fist with your right hand. Keep it clenched, then release. Now tense your fingers with open palms, then relax.
Bend your right leg, tighten your thigh muscles, then relax. Now stretch the foot upwards, hold for a few moments, then relax.
Left arm
Left leg
Tighten the gluteal muscles, hold like this, then relax
Tighten your abdominal muscles as much as you can, hold like this, then relax
Bend your head forward so that your neck is stretched at the back. Keep it tight, then relax. Now bend your head to the left so that your neck muscles are tight on the right side, then relax after a few moments. Repeat to the right.
Tighten your jaw as much as possible, hold it like this, then relax it. Smile a really big smile, then relax your facial muscles. Raise your eyebrows, wait a moment, then lower them.

Allow your body to relax. Breathe evenly, breathe slowly. Think of a pleasurable experience to make you feel good. Savour these thoughts for a few minutes, then open your eyes and stretch. For the next few minutes, simply enjoy the stillness.


Breathe deeply – most of the time we don’t breathe consciously, we don’t pay attention to our breathing, and improperly recorded technique can have a significant impact on our well-being

Calm breathing (breathing exercise):
Sit on a comfortable (not too soft) chair, support your back
Lower your shoulders and feel them move away from your spine towards your arms.
Allow your lungs and chest to fully expand
Take 5 slow, deep breaths, starting with an exhalation. Do not hold the breath. Inhale, our abdomen bulges slightly, exhale, it retracts
Count to 3 on the inhale and 4 on the exhale


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