Chronic Stress Management Tips and Techniques

Stress free woman

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 27% of all adults say they are too stressed most days to function, and 34% reported being overwhelmed by stress regularly.

If you’re experiencing prolonged worry that persists even after a stressful situation has passed, you may be suffering from chronic stress.

Chronic stress has a major impact on your mental and physical health and can affect almost every aspect of your daily life.

What is Chronic Stress?

The human body is built to respond to stress and protect you against threats. This dates back to prehistoric times when predators and aggressors were common dangers.

When the body perceives stress, it enters a state of heightened alertness, also called the fight or flight response.

Although we no longer require this fight or flight response to survive, it still exists in the body.

The same stress response occurs when you face daily demands.

Stress causes the body to release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, increasing heart rate and breathing.

Most people will experience stress at some point, due to challenging or demanding situations. This type of acute stress comes and goes and doesn’t last long.

Chronic stress, unlike acute stress, persists over a long period and can be much more debilitating, occurring even without immediate stressors.

Common Causes of Chronic Stress

Some causes of chronic stress include:

  • Genetics
  • Financial worries or unemployment
  • Challenging relationships
  • High-pressure jobs
  • Traumatic events
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • Loneliness
  • Your environment
  • Health problems or injuries that impact your daily life

The Symptoms of Chronic Stress

There are both physical and psychological symptoms that people with chronic stress may experience. These include:

  • Anxiety and depression: A prolonged exposure to the stress hormone cortisol can disrupt the balance of the neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood, such as serotonin and dopamine. This can cause mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

  • Digestive problems : Stress can affect communication between the brain and gut, causing motility and sensitivity changes. This can result in nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.

  • Muscle tension and pain: The fight or flight response discussed above can cause tightening, contracting, and tensing of muscles to protect the body, which can lead to muscle tension and pain.

  • High blood pressure: Repeated release of stress hormones can elevate heart rate and constrict blood vessels, leading to a rise in blood pressure.

  • Heart disease: Chronic stress can lead to heart problems, including heart attacks. This is a result of increased blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Repeated activation of the body’s stress response can compromise the cardiovascular system.

  • Headaches: Muscle tension, neurotransmitter changes, and increased blood pressure due to stress can all cause headaches.

  • Sleep problems: Elevated cortisol levels from chronic stress can interfere with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. This can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Poor sleep worsens stress.

  • Weight gain: The increased production of cortisol can trigger cravings for high-calorie foods, possibly leading to greater food consumption. Cortisol can also cause more fat to be stored in the abdominal area.

  • Memory and focus problems: Excess cortisol can affect critical brain areas responsible for memory and focus, impairing concentration and recall.

5 Ways to Manage Chronic Stress

Chronic stress impacts daily life in many ways. Learning to cope with and minimize stress is important if you want to avoid the symptoms outlined above and live a happier life.

Identify your stress and work on your mindset

Identifying when you’re stressed is the first step to managing this condition. However, becoming aware of your stress isn’t easy.

You could start by placing a sticky note on your computer screen or setting an alarm, for example, that reminds you to check in with your thoughts a few times a day.

The next step is identifying your negative thought patterns. This is a powerful method for overcoming chronic stress. Often, our inner critic causes much of our stress.

Simply by thinking certain thoughts, you can trigger the body’s stress response.

Being able to recognize which thoughts are causing your stress can help break unhelpful thinking patterns and make you feel more calm and in control.

Add physical activity to your routine

One of the most effective lifestyle changes for mitigating chronic stress is exercise. Certain hormones — such as endorphins — are released into your body when you engage in physical activity.

These hormones can help boost your mood, give you energy, and improve your resilience to stress.

Additionally, exercise reduces stress hormones in the body, helping you feel better.

Physical activity can also help eliminate body aches associated with stress and improve your physical health, including your digestive and immune systems.

Lastly, exercise can improve your sleep quality — which we will discuss later in this article.

You don’t have to go for an intense run or hit the weights section of the gym each day to reap the rewards of physical activity.

Something as simple as some light stretching in the morning or before bed can help improve your stress levels.

Try breathing exercises

If you’re experiencing chronic stress, you may often find yourself breathing shallowly or rapidly throughout the day without being aware of it.

This is why breathing exercises are one of the best relaxation strategies to reduce stress. Simply taking three deep breaths can help to stimulate the relaxation areas of the brain.

When practicing deep breathing, ensure that when you inhale, you draw in as much oxygen as possible. On the exhale, make sure you empty your lungs.

You might want to place your hands on your stomach as you do this to notice the rise and fall of your belly.

Box breathing is a breathing exercise that is especially helpful for stress reduction. You can do this by:

  • Inhaling for a count of four
  • Holding your breath for a count of four
  • Exhaling for a count of four
  • Holding for a count of four

Take steps to improve your sleep quality

Have you ever had a poor night’s sleep and woken up stressed the next day? This is because sleep plays a crucial role in stress management.

Getting enough quality sleep helps to regulate stress hormones, improve your physical health, strengthen your immune system, and increase your resilience to stress.

Some tips for getting better quality sleep include:

  • Creating a sleep routine: This involves going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.

  • Limiting screen time before bed: The blue light emitted by your electronic devices signals to the brain that it should be awake.

  • Optimizing your sleep environment: Ensure that your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Try to only use your bedroom for sleep.

  • Journaling before you fall asleep: This approach allows you to release all your feelings and worries before bed, making it easier to fall asleep with less stress.

Try guided meditation

Both Spotify and iTunes have a wide library of guided meditations you can listen to for free. A guided meditation means someone is speaking as you meditate.

Guided meditation often involves deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and positive affirmations that can relieve tension and stress.

Typically, these guided meditations are short — around 15 minutes — making it easier to fit them into your schedule.

A good time to do a guided meditation is first thing in the morning to help you start your day on a calm note. You could also try this technique at bedtime to help you relax before falling asleep.

When you’re practicing your meditation, try to find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted, if possible.

Key Point: Figure Out What Works for You

Not all the stress management techniques above will work for you. Managing stress looks different for everyone.

Take some time to experiment with different coping strategies to find what works best in your situation.

If these relaxation techniques don’t provide you with any relief from your stress, speak to a healthcare provider who can assess your mental health and help you treat this condition.

Where Can I Learn More About Chronic Stress?

If you are concerned about your condition and want to learn more about chronic stress, LifeMD is here to help.

LifeMD can connect you to a team of healthcare professionals who can provide advice on managing stress effectively and suggest treatments.

Make your same-day appointment today and skip the waiting room.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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