How Chronic Stress Impacts Your Life
Life is constantly filled with stress that stems from work and school or family and personal situations. When it continually builds over time it becomes chronic stress, which can impact your mind and body in a number of harmful ways.
What Is Chronic Stress?
The human body is excellent at handling stressful situations, except when it doesn't have a chance to recover in between each individual stressor. These stressors are anything that threatens a person's well-being physically or mentally. They can be work-related, due to a relationship problem, or even caused by a sick family member. Normally, when you experience a stressor, your body goes into a heightened state to challenge the stressor, known as a fight or flight response. When this occurs, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which gives you an adrenaline rush to handle the situation. Once the stressor is gone, the nervous system initiates a relaxation response to calm you back down and allow the body to recover.
This is where chronic stress comes into play. Since your body doesn't have the chance to go into its relaxation mode after it handles a stressor, it is always in a heightened state. The fight or flight response just never ends, keeping your cortisol levels high at all times. It can handle doing this over and over for a short period of time, but once it turns into weeks, severe symptoms will start to emerge.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Stress?
The symptoms of chronic stress can manifest themselves both mentally and physically. The severity of these symptoms can vary from person to person, but these are the most commonly occurring symptoms of chronic stress:
- Body aches
- Easily irritated
- Feeling helpless
- Hard time sleeping
- Increased anxiety
- Increased nervousness
- Lack of concentration
- Lack of energy
- More illnesses
- Scattered thoughts
- Stomach discomfort
If three or more of these symptoms are affecting you for more than a few weeks, there is a good chance you are suffering from chronic stress and not just acute stress.
How Does Chronic Stress Differ from Acute Stress?
Acute stress is the most common type of stress and you probably experience it multiple times a day without even realizing it. It can be something as simple as hearing your alarm clock go off or as intense as a heated argument with your partner. The good thing about acute stress is that once the situation is over, your stress is gone as well. This is unlike chronic stress which is more long-term compared to short-term acute stress. While acute stress can actually benefit the body by getting into a heightened state, chronic stress affects it in more harmful ways.
How Does Chronic Stress Affect Your Body?
Chronic stress affects every system of the body from the head down to the toes in these ways:
- Cardiovascular system — Elevated blood pressure, higher heart rate, and increased levels of stress hormones due to stress can have serious side effects. Watch out for an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, heart disease, and inflammation.
- Endocrine system — High levels of the stress hormone cortisol over time can cause chronic fatigue, depression, immune disorders, and metabolic disorders like diabetes or obesity.
Gastrointestinal system — The brain is closely connected to the gut, which can affect the GI system more than you think. The esophagus can feel heartburn or acid reflux, the stomach can see distress from bloating or nausea, and the bowels can suffer from constipation or diarrhea.
- Musculoskeletal system — Chronic stress causes the muscles to be in a constant state of tenseness which can lead to chronic muscle injury, tension headaches and migraines, and eventually muscle atrophy.
- Respiratory system — Rapid breathing or shortness of breath can occur when the airways constrict from stress. This is especially bad for people with previous respiratory conditions like asthma.
How Does Chronic Stress Affect Your Mind?
Just as chronic stress can affect your body, it also can also affect your mind negatively. When the brain gets stressed, the amygdala, which controls your survival instincts, is in control. It leaves the other parts of the brain that deal with memory and other functions less energy to perform their tasks. This can leave you with the feeling of forgetfulness. Over the long term, it can lead to the rewiring of the brain, since one part is being used much more than the other. It is important to combat your stress before it can overtake your life.
How To Combat Chronic Stress
When you are feeling stressed it is critical that you take the time to partake in your favorite stress-reducing activity. Whether it is hitting the gym, enjoying time in nature, or meditating, be sure to fit them into your schedule.
Hit the Gym
A hard workout can be the perfect solution to a stressful day. Just don't make this your standard gym practice. Hard workouts over time can increase the stress on your body, so if you're feeling chronically stressed, stick to moderate workouts that you enjoy like going for a run, bike ride, or moderate-intensity gym workout.
Go for a Hike
Studies show that spending as little as 20 minutes a day in nature can significantly reduce stress levels. Take time out of your day to go for a walk through your local park or on a nice long hike during the weekends. A camping trip is another fun way to melt away your stress.
Meditation has been in practice for thousands of years and it's a proven way to reduce stress. It allows you to enter a state of complete relaxation so you can clear your mind of whatever is stressing you. Yoga is another option for a stress-fighting practice that combines both meditation and a light workout.
Take Care of Your Mind and Body
While it is impossible to remove all of the stressful situations from your life, there are ways you can minimize their impact. Whether it is through exercise, meditation, or art, you need to take care of chronic stress before it damages your body and mind. Here at TigerFitness.com, we can help you relieve your chronic stress through exercise by providing you with everything you need to succeed. We carry supplements and protein, workout clothing and accessories, and provide training and diet plans.