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Stress & Energy Management

What is the Impact of Chronic Stress on Your Health?

Stress is an inevitable part of life. But when it becomes long-lasting it can negatively impact your health. Learn about what chronic stress is, what causes it and how it can affect your wellbeing.

Stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat, where many daily life events can cause stress. When something goes wrong, like a child falls sick or you find yourself  in a high pressure situation like a job interview, your body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which shift blood supply from non-essential functions like digestion to our brain and muscles to enable us to think clearly and stay focused and alert[1].  When this happens occasionally, it’s harmless to your body, as it can return to its normal state later.

When the stress response become prolonged (chronic) over time, constant pressures from array of smaller stressors can become much more dangerous, because it puts our bodies in the hyper-alert state all the time. This is called chronic stress.

When you experience stressors with high frequency or intensity, your autonomic nervous system never gets the opportunity to properly relax. High levels of adrenaline and cortisol are constantly circulating in the bloodstream, which overtime can negatively impact your mental and physical wellbeing[2]. It is estimated that up to 90% of doctor’s visits are for conditions in which stress plays a part [3].

Examples of chronic stress

Stress in the modern world is everywhere, managing full time work and caring for a family with children, never ending to do list and no time to relax or exercise, plus the everyday annoyances — traffic, train delays, a long supermarket line after an even longer day. Your brain can become overloaded and overwhelmed.

However, everyone has different stress triggers, and it is very likely to be a complex mixture of socioeconomic, environmental and physical that contribute to the big picture of chronic stress. According to Everyday Health’s United States of Stress Survey report (2018)[4], the top four stress factors are finances, work related, marital relationships and family responsibilities.

  • Over a third of all respondents say their job or career is a regular source of stress. Among millennials and Gen Z, the chronic work-stressed rose to 44%.  
  • More than half of women (51%) and 34 % of men feel badly about their appearance on a weekly basis. Women also stated that their appearance regularly causes them stress.
  • Overall 52% of responders cited financial issues as a regular stress; which is well above the 35% who cited jobs and careers as the next most common stressor.

Does chronic stress affect your wellbeing?

Ironically, pushing yourself too much can take the joy out of the very things you are working so hard for, leaving yourself feeling burned out and tired.  

Not providing your body with sufficient time to bounce back, the effects of stress can go beyond the mind, contributing to various physical ailments with digestion, immune function, heart, and hormones issues.

What are the symptoms of chronic stress?

The immediate and long-term symptoms [5] include:
  • Digestive system: triggers stomach pains, diarrhea (or constipation in some people)
  • Obesity: increases appetite, which can lead to weight gain overtime. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • Immune system: weakens the immune system making you more vulnerable to colds or other infections
  • Nervous system: may trigger anxiety, depression or insomnia and cause you to lose interest in physical activity. Memory and decision-making can also be affected
  • Fatigue: poor energy levels
  • Cardiovascular system: increases blood pressure and heart rate. It also raises blood glucose levels. All of which are risk factors for heart disease, atherosclerosis, stroke, obesity and diabetes
  • Pregnancy: may increase the risk of a woman delivering pre-term

How to manage stress?

It’s important to keep a close eye on your stress levels and have tools in place to help manage it because stress, especially chronic stress can have major impacts on the body and mind. Simple actions such as reading a book, socializing with a friend, playing a favorite sport and listening to music are all good ideas to destress. For more tips on simple but effective ways to reduce stress, stay tuned for our next article on stress.

References:

[1] https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-symptoms-signs-and-causes.htm
[2] https://www.verywellmind.com/chronic-stress-314510
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/
[4] https://images.agoramedia.com/everydayhealth/gcms/Age-Breakouts-Everyday-Health-United-States-of-Stress-Report.pdf
[5]https://www.mqmentalhealth.org/posts/stress-and-mental-health

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