Not all stress is bad. Sometimes, stress can motivate you, and your body’s stress response can even be life-saving, such as when you’re in danger. But long-term stress, or chronic stress, can take a serious toll on your health, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Normally, when you’re stressed out, your body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These increase your blood pressure, body temperature, muscle tension, and heart rate. When the “danger” has passed, stress hormone levels fall, and your body returns to normal functioning. When the stress is chronic, though, stress hormones remain elevated and can suppress your immune system function and cause stomach issues, insomnia, and headaches.
Over time, chronic stress can lead to more serious health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression or anxiety.
Signs of Chronic Stress
If you’re used to living with chronic stress, you may not realize the toll it’s taking on your health. Many people don’t make the connection between their symptoms and their stress level. Signs that you may be suffering from chronic stress include:
- Low energy.
- Aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment.
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat.
- Frequent infections and colds.
- Changes in sexual desire.
- Grinding your teeth.
- Heartburn and stomach pain.
- Trouble breathing or frequent sighing.
- Anxiety or depression.
Stress affects several key body systems, according to the National Institute of Stress, including the nervous, musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, and gastrointestinal systems.
Five Ways to Reduce Stress
Reducing your stress levels on the spot and over time is essential for reducing the harmful effects of stress on your body. Here are some simple ways to reduce your stress.
- Exercise. Exercise is one of the best ways to not only reduce stress on the spot but also to help your body learn to respond better to it. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week for the best results.
- Breathe. Deep breathing reduces stress hormone levels right away. When you’re feeling stressed, take slow, deep breaths to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing throughout the day can help ward off stress as well.
- Relax. It can be hard to relax on command when you’re stressed out. Focusing on a calming, soothing activity can help. Give your dog some love, or bake a batch of cookies. Coloring is a great activity that’s been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate as well as change your brain waves to a calmer state. An Android app like Coloring Book for Me & Mandala makes it easy to take a five-minute coloring break.
- Meditate. A large body of research shows that meditation lowers stress and even changes the way your brain and body respond to it. Regular meditation also improves your overall sense of well-being and leads to greater self-awareness.
- Practice yoga. Yoga combines body postures with deep breathing exercises to reduce your stress level and relax your muscles. Regular yoga practice puts you in tune with your body for greater awareness of the effects of stress, and it can help you lower stress on the spot with just a few poses that you can do anywhere.
Lowering your stress is easy, but you have to remember to do it. Stress can take your focus away from your body, and it can reduce your level of self-care. Staying mindful of your stress level and taking steps to reduce it each day can help improve your physical and mental health and your overall quality of life.