YOUR LIFE YOUR HEALTH

Prioritizing Self-Care During Pandemic Can Protect Women From Heart Disease

Mar 22, 2021, 2:11 PM | Updated: 2:42 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The stress of the global pandemic is taking a big toll, especially on women, who are often caregivers. With heart disease as the leading cause of death among women, experts warn about the danger of too much stress. One Utah mother shares how she came to understand the importance of caring for herself.

Libby Mortimer is a fun, energetic, busy mother of five who’s always enjoyed good health. “Truly like the epitome of health. Never a problem,” she explained.

On Father’s Day 2019, everything changed.

“I just felt pressure in my chest, shooting down my arms and I even thought, ‘This sounds like a heart attack, but I’m 38, so I know I’m not having a heart attack,'” she said.

Yet her worst nightmare came true. “I just looked at my baby and I thought, ‘If something happens to me, she’s alone so I better call an ambulance,'” she said. “I ended up having 13 heart attacks while I was in the hospital.”

Mortimer had suffered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD, tearing the left anterior descending artery. “They had my husband come to the hospital and said, ‘We hope you have all of your affairs in order. We have to discuss your wife’s health condition,'” Mortimer said.

After single-bypass open heart surgery and spending a month in the hospital, Mortimer feels grateful to be alive. “It was just a true miracle,” she said.

It wasn’t easy. “The reality of those things are just traumatizing. I have developed some pretty severe PTSD from it,” Mortimer explained. “I’ve had anything from you know the crazy heartbeats, the tremors, the flashbacks, headaches, nausea.”

Intermountain Healthcare’s Sheralee Petersen, a certified physician assistant at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute, said these physiological symptoms are common after suffering traumatic events and point to the dangers of chronic stress.

“We are physiologically and biologically built to handle stress in short bursts,” she said. “But when you’re running from the tiger for an entire year, it just turns into like this chronic stress experience and that’s really what we’re starting to see.”

Petersen said research shows the number of women suffering from stress cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome, increased fourfold at the beginning of the pandemic.

She said stress hormones can put women at a higher risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, higher cholesterol, inflammation and atherosclerosis, which often precede cardiovascular disease. “It could represent or present itself down the road as heart attack or stroke or ultimately heart failure,” she said.

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for women — and the risk only increases for postmenopausal women.

That’s why she urged women to prioritize self-care.

“In order for you to show up to your fullest capacity or the best version of yourself, you have to take care of yourself first,” Petersen said.

Most women play some sort of caregiving role, whether that’s to a child, spouse, parent or neighbor. Those caregiving responsibilities have only increased during the pandemic. “Women tend to play more caregiver roles than men and because of that, there’s an enhanced level of stress,” Petersen explained.

Petersen said women are disproportionately affected for a variety of reasons. “They tend to defer their own self-care and it really puts them in a high-risk position to, unfortunately, experience the negative side effects of chronic stress,” she said.

She urged women to first acknowledge their stress levels, study up about their own “stress mindset,” which helps someone understand how they process stress, and make a plan to reduce their stress.

“Before I would be like, ‘Great, take the Motrin and let’s get moving,’ and now I have to listen,” Mortimer said.

Mortimer has been learning about the importance of taking the time to slow down and put her needs first. For Mortimer that included exercise, journaling, praying and therapy. Mortimer said as she’s worked through her PTSD, it’s started to resolve some of her physical issues.

Mortimer urged other women to recognize their own limits: “To be super honest with themselves and just say, this is all I’ve got me today,” she said. “If you don’t start taking care of yourself, your body will shut you down at some point.”

Petersen said women don’t need to start a new yoga routine or make drastic changes to their routine. “It can be ‘I have 10 minutes or five minutes a day, and I’m going to do some deep breathing and I’m going to do some gratitude journaling and I will phone that friend or set up a regular call where you just know with no filter you can say anything and still be loved,'” she said.

With the right self-care, Petersen said women can remain more resilient in challenging situations. “That threshold can be heightened when we take care of ourselves first,” Petersen said.

For Mortimer, the extra effort has paid off.

“I’m trying to really listen and give my body what it needs versus marching over it. I’ve learned in the hardest of ways, I can’t do anything if I’m not here,” Mortimer said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Your Life Your Health

...
Ayanna Likens

Three healthy back-to-school lunches using the same ingredients

Chef Christopher Delissio with Intermountain shares three healthy lunches to put in your kid’s school lunch box, all using the same ingredients.
4 days ago
Dr. Randa Tao is the lead researcher on the study at the Huntsman Cancer Institute....
Jed Boal

Researchers find patients with specific cancer at higher risk for mental health issues

New research out of Huntsman Cancer Institute reveals that Hodgkin lymphoma patients and survivors are more likely to suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders than the general population.
6 days ago
5-year-old Elodie gets immunized before she begins kindergarten. (KSL TV)...
Ayanna Likens

Utah doctor talks about how important vaccinations are for kids heading back to school

School is just around the corner and if you have kids entering kindergarten or seventh grade, that means it’s time to get them immunized.
12 days ago
Hillary Ramone's son Parker stops for a water break while at the park....
Ayanna Likens

Proper hydration is about more than just drinking water

Intermountain doctors share tips on how to keep you and your kids hydrated in Utah’s high heat.
18 days ago
When the UV Index is seven or higher you are at a higher risk for skin cancer. Use sunscreen or con...
Ayanna Likens

Staying safe in the sun: Don’t forget to check the UV Index

Utah has the highest rate of melanoma in the nation with 42 cases per 100,000 people, double the national average. That’s why doctors at Intermountain Medical Center said you need to protect yourself when headed outside.
26 days ago
Dynna Farr, athletic trainer at Intermountain Healthcare for Wasatch High School, talks with 17-yea...
Keri Wilcox

Proper concussion protocol key to recovery for young athletes

Of all the sports injuries high school athletes can encounter — one of the most serious can be concussion. A concussion care plan can help them fully heal and safely get them back in the game.
1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
...
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...
AARP Utah

Utah voters 50+ support increased access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
Prioritizing Self-Care During Pandemic Can Protect Women From Heart Disease