When your car dies or a deadline looms, how do you respond? Long-term, low-grade or acute stress takes a serious toll on your body and mind, so don’t ignore feelings of constant tension. Understand what’s happening inside your body and learn simple coping skills to combat the negative impacts of everyday stressors.
Fight or Flight
Sudden or ongoing stress activates your nervous system and floods your bloodstream with adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that raise blood pressure, increase heart rate and spike blood sugar. These changes pitch your body into a fight or flight response. That enabled our ancestors to outrun saber-toothed tigers, and it’s helpful today for situations like dodging a car accident. But most modern chronic stressors, such as finances or a challenging relationship, keep your body in that heightened state, which hurts your health.
Effects of Too Much Stress
"If constantly under stress, most of us will eventually start to function less well," says Malaika Stoll, M.D., chief medical officer of SutterSelect. Multiple studies link chronic stress to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, weight gain, memory loss and even premature death, so "it's important to recognize the warning signals," she says.
Talk to your doctor about ways to manage stress if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Prolonged periods of poor sleep
- Regular, severe headaches
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Feelings of isolation, withdrawal or worthlessness
- Constant anger and irritability
- Loss of interest in activities
- Constant worrying or obsessive thinking
- Excessive alcohol or drug use
- Inability to concentrate
10 Ways to Cope with Chronic Stress
"It’s key to recognize stressful situations as they occur because it allows you to focus on managing how you react," Dr. Stoll says. "We all need to know when to close our eyes and take a deep breath when we feel tension rising."
Use these tips to prevent or reduce chronic stress.
1. Re-balance Work and Home
All work and no play? If you’re spending too much time at the office, intentionally put more dates in your calendar to enjoy time for fun, either alone or with others.
2. Build in Regular Exercise
Moving your body on a regular basis balances the nervous system and increases blood circulation, helping to flush out stress hormones. Even a daily 20-minute walk makes a difference.
3. Eat Well and Limit Alcohol and Stimulants
Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine may temporarily relieve stress but have negative health impacts and can make stress worse in the long run. Well-nourished bodies cope better, so start with a good breakfast, add more organic fruits and vegetables, avoid processed foods and sugar, and drink more water.
4. Connect with Supportive People
Talking face to face with another person releases hormones that reduce stress. Lean on those good listeners in your life.
5. Carve out Hobby Time
Do you enjoy gardening, reading, listening to music or some other creative pursuit? Engage in activities that bring you pleasure and joy; research shows that reduces stress by almost half and lowers your heart rate, too.
6. Practice Meditation, Stress Reduction or Yoga
Relaxation techniques activate a state of restfulness that counterbalances your body’s fight-or-flight hormones. Consider taking a mindfulness-based stress reduction course to learn effective, lasting tools.
7. Sleep Enough
If you get less than seven to eight hours of sleep, your body won’t tolerate stress as well as it could. If stress keeps you up at night, address the cause and add extra meditation into your day to make up for the lost z’s.
8. Bond with Your Pet
Clinical studies show that spending even a short time with a companion animal can cut anxiety levels almost in half.
9. Take a Vacation
Getting away from it all can reset your stress tolerance by increasing your mental and emotional outlook, which makes you a happier, more productive person upon return. Leave your cellphone and laptop at home!
10. See a Counselor, Coach or Therapist
If negative thoughts overwhelm your ability to make positive changes, it’s time to seek professional help. Make an appointment today—your health and life are worth it.