Let’s face it: Life is stressful. And even small stressors (causes of stress) can snowball over time. This article explains the risks of chronic stress, how to notice its physical signs and strategies to counter its harmful effects.
What is Chronic Stress?
Chronic stress is a state of overload. It causes your adrenal glands to release high levels of cortisol and leads to other unwanted side effects. To fully understand, let’s review how stress affects your body, also known as the stress response.
Work deadlines, being stuck in traffic, and running from danger all trigger the same stress response. Your brain sends signals that cause the release of hormones called epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol into your bloodstream. Adrenaline makes your heart race and ups your blood pressure. Your liver releases glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream, which causes your blood sugar to rise, and you hold onto sodium and water. Cortisol also causes your muscles to become resistant to insulin, which keeps your blood sugar elevated.
When stress is very brief, these changes can be helpful for survival. But when stress is ongoing, the effects can wreak havoc on your health.
How Stress Affects the Body
Unrelenting stress can lead to the development of chronic conditions, like type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. This is especially true when stress is coupled with less movement and highly processed, calorie-dense foods.
At Love.Life, we believe in addressing the root causes of disease, and stress is a big one. If you suffer from chronic stress, consider joining one of our medical or coaching programs for personalized support.
How to Reduce Stress
These four habits help reduce stress and offset its damaging effects.
- Create a mindful minute. Bring mindfulness into your life, even for just one minute per day. Begin by simply breathing in and out with awareness. Or focus on more concentrated breathing, such as box breathing, which involves breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, breathing out for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, and repeating.
- Chill out, literally. Studies show that regularly exposing yourself to water that is 50°F or colder (within reason above freezing) can increase your resilience to stressful events. Start with a 20-30-second cold shower or a cold plunge. Breathe rhythmically throughout cold exposure and work up to 11 minutes total over the course of a week.
- Practice gratitude. Being grateful is something everyone can benefit from. Three to four times per week write down, text, or say aloud three good things that happened that day and at least one thing you’re grateful for.
- Get out of your head. Research shows that journaling, making lists, or writing out what’s bothering you can help you objectively look at what you’re struggling with. This practice helps you use your pre-frontal cortex (the CEO of your brain) to confront your thoughts more clearly and let go of circumstances beyond your control.