We’ve all known what it’s like to deal with a big presentation, a tough conversation, or the image of police lights flashing in our rear view mirrors. This is acute stress—the “fight or flight” response our bodies launch against immediate threats—and it’s normal and healthy.
But the demands of the modern world are causing people to feel stressed for long periods of time—days, weeks, months, or even years. And when this stress lingers, serious health issues can crop up. In fact, research has linked chronic stress to everything from migraine headaches to heart disease and obesity. The reason? Stress is not just an experience we feel—our bodies also release certain chemicals and initiate certain processes which, when prolonged and excessive, can damage our DNA, cells, and tissues.
Keep reading to find out about the surprising signs of chronic stress and what you can do about it.
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Stress
Some people can easily tell when they’re starting to feel burned out, overwhelmed, and spread thin. But for many others, chronic stress may be less obvious—especially if it’s been an issue for a long time.
Here are some leading signs and symptoms of chronic stress to look out for:
- Moodiness and irritability
- Problems concentrating or remembering
- Disorganized racing thoughts
- Trouble sleeping
- Decreased sex drive
- Digestive problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Frequent illnesses or infections
We’ve already seen that chronic stress can damage your cells, tissues, and organs. Chronic stress is also associated with widespread inflammation. For this reason, research shows that chronic stress is correlated with a range of conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mood disorders, chronic pain, and skin irritation.
Because the brain and gut are neurologically linked, stress can even impair your gut health and immune system. It’s even been shown that high stress during pregnancy is associated with health and developmental problems in children.
Reducing Stress in a Stressful World: Tips for Alleviating Chronic Stress
Most of what causes chronic stress—such as challenging relationships, poor sleep, financial troubles, and so on—is manageable through lifestyle choices. Here are a few of the most effective ways to reduce stress, according to research:
- Exercise: a good goal is around 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week.
- Get enough sleep: adults need an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Do you struggle to fall or stay asleep? Try sleeping in a pitch dark room, establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, going to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and minimizing your consumption of alcohol and caffeine, especially later in the day.
- Meditate: meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and alleviate symptoms of stress and mood disorders like PTSD and depression. Like exercise, it stimulates the release of feel good hormones like serotonin and dopamine.
- Focus on your breath: deep breathing exercises have been shown to trigger the part of the nervous system that helps you relax. To get started, try just 2 to 3 minutes of box breathing (inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, and hold for 4 counts).
Lastly, consider adding a few high quality supplements to your diet. The right mix of supplements can enhance brain and body health and act like an extra back-up for your food. Lion’s mane, for example, has been shown to boost brain performance and may alleviate mild symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Other supplements like collagen peptides can enhance your body’s post-workout recovery so you can get the most out of your workouts without feeling super run-down.
Want to learn more? Keep in touch with iFlourish Labs for up-to-date info on health, supplements, fitness, and optimal human wellness.