The Impact of Chronic Stress

Everyone experiences stress. Stress is usually thought of as negative, but it doesn’t have to be the enemy. In fact, when properly managed, stress plays an important role in our lives. Our body’s stress response warns us to get out of the way of oncoming traffic, gives us the burst of energy we need to meet an important deadline, and gets us pumped up for a friendly backyard basketball match. The problems arise when we lose balance and stress plays a disproportionate role in our lives. When this occurs, and stress accumulates, it can lead to a wide range of consequences on our physical and mental wellbeing.

Understanding the body’s natural response to stress.

When the mind perceives that a threat is occurring, chemicals known as neurotransmitters are released by a region of the brain known as the hypothalamus.

These neurotransmitters act as an alarm for your body, triggering a cascade response that involves the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis—the primary driver of the endocrine stress response. This response leads to the production of glucocorticoids, a class of steroid hormones that includes the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

These hormones prepare your body for fight-or-flight by:

  • Increasing your heart rate and blood pressure
  • Mobilizing glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream to use as fuel
  • Enhancing your brain’s use of energy boosting glucose

However, while stress hormones are preparing you to mobilize, they are also leading to a downregulation of nonessential bodily functions such as digestion and immune response. This is why stress often leads to stomach aches and an increased likelihood of getting sick. Over time, chronic stress can lead to impaired communication between the immune system and the HPA axis, which can contribute to the development of many long-term physical and mental health conditions.

What happens when stress is chronic?

Under normal circumstances, once the situation that triggered the stress response passes, your body’s levels of adrenaline and cortisol drop and your heart rate, blood pressure, and other systems return to baseline. However, when stress becomes chronic, the body never has a chance to recover. The fight-or-flight reaction is always turned on. This leads to long-term exposure to stress hormones which can disrupt many bodily processes and increase your risk of:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke
  • Respiratory issues, such as shortness of breath and rapid breathing—in some cases even asthma attacks
  • Obesity and other eating disorders
  • Menstrual problems
  • Mental health struggles such as depression and anxiety

Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms of Chronic Stress

Some symptoms of chronic stress that you may include:

  • Being easily irritated, agitated, and moody
  • Feeling out of control
  • Having difficulty relaxing or struggling with racing thoughts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Changes in appetite
  • Procrastination
  • Dependence on addictive substances such as drugs, caffeine, cigarettes, or alcohol

How to Manage Stress

Thankfully, there are effective ways to rebalance the levels of stress in your life. Let’s look at some of the top ways to reduce stress through practical, every day means.

  • Eating a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables
  • Consistent exercise schedule. The current federal health recommendation is at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5 days a week
  • Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, massage, prayer, mindfulness
  • Journaling
  • Making time for hobbies and new interests
  • Prioritizing relationships with friends and family
  • Community service or volunteering
  • Implementing structure and organization
  • Last but certainly not least, consider seeking professional counseling. At Mindboost, we offer 24/7 support through conversational self-help interventions and access to coping strategies specific to managing stress. Acting as a coaching tool, Mindboost helps users develop positive habits and strengthen the attributes that help us connect and thrive.

To learn more about Mindboost and how our daily reminders, stress relief exercises, and AI-powered check-ins are designed to reduce rates of chronic stress and anxiety while building new mental habits, give our team a call. Schedule a demo and start building your way to better wellness today.