How Chronic Stress Affects Eating Patterns
Chronic stress can affect the bodys use of calories and nutrients in various ways. It raises the bodys metabolic needs and increases the use and excretion of many nutrients. If one does not eat a nutritious diet, a deficiency may occur. Stress also creates a chain reaction of behaviors that can negatively affect eating habits, leading to other health problems down the road.
What Is Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is a prolonged and constant feeling of stress that can negatively affect your health if it goes untreated. It can be caused by the everyday pressures of family and work or by traumatic situations.
Chronic stress occurs when the body experiences stressors with such frequency or intensity that the autonomic nervous system does not have an adequate chance to activate the relaxation response on a regular basis. This means that the body remains in a constant state of physiological arousal.
This affects virtually every system in the body, either directly or indirectly. People were built to handle acute stress, which is short-lived, but not chronic stress, which is steady over a long period of time. In order to begin managing chronic stress, it is important to understand what it is, what may be causing it, and how it affects the entire body.
Coping Mechanisms For Chronic Stress
Though chronic stress may cause some pretty significant problems for a person experiencing it and the solutions to their problems may not always be easy or even possible, there are still some techniques and coping mechanisms one can implement to assist in managing the effects.
The best starting point for coping with any type of problem is to care for your body, which can have quite an influence on the mind. It’s always wise to try to eat a healthy and balanced diet, engage in regular exercise, and get as much rest as your body may need to repair itself and function as well as possible regularly. Poor physical health can contribute to an unhealthy mind.
Relaxation is also key in reducing stress levels, though it may be much easier said than done. Meditation and yoga have always been great options for refocusing, calming the mind, and easing tensions. Distraction is also a healthy coping method and can be done by engaging in enjoyable activities such as hobbies, like watching a movie, playing a game, going for a hike or walk, reading a book, or spending time with someone you care about. Healthy relationships and the support of those around you easily make dealing with harder days and difficult situations much easier to bear.
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Listen To Your Emotions
Noticing your feelings and getting curious about what is causing them allows you to move into more flexible thinking. Once youve determined what real or perceived risk you are facing, you are able to consider how you would like to respond and what next steps are best.
For example, after thinking more about your stress around an upcoming deadline, you may learn it stems from a fear that your work isnt good enough or instead it might be a case where your job is truly on the line.
The most helpful course of action might be finding ways to cope with self-doubt, or it could be determining how to achieve job security. Either way, listening to your emotions will help you think more clearly and clarify what you can do to relieve the stress.
What Is The Impact Of Chronic Stress
Chronic stress affects your whole body. There can be many psychological or physical symptoms that make daily functioning difficult. The severity and type of symptoms significantly vary in different persons.
Signs and symptoms of chronic stress include:
- A Perceived Loss of Control
- Irritability, which can be Extreme
- Frequent Infections or Illnesses
Studies have shown that chronic stress affects both your mind and body in different ways. Recognizing its presence early on is a meaningful way to maintain your health.
If persisting longer, chronic stress can lead to various psychological or physical disorders, which includes:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
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How Is Chronic Stress Diagnosed
A mental health professional can interview a patient to gather information about the overall presence of stress. Given the wide range of symptoms and linked conditions, the diagnosis may require input from other specialists. “An integrative approach is best, Sinha says. I might pull in an endocrinologist to see a patient if I think a patients issues are related to metabolic problems, for instance. Stress biology, such as stress hormones and other physiological changes related to stress, may also perpetuate a chronic stress state and related conditions, so assessing those factors is also important.
Be Aware Of The Bigger Picture
Stress is often a legitimate response to difficult circumstances, that no amount of resilience or self-care can overcome, Boyd says. Much prolonged stress is a product of poverty, financial struggle and health conditions and exacerbated by cuts to benefits and support services. So any discussion of ways to cope must acknowledge that the solution lies in structural societal change, such as welfare reform, more protective labour laws and more support and resources for caregivers.
Middle-aged women, in particular, shoulder the burden, often working full-time while also caring for young children and elderly parents. Its unfair to put all of the responsibility for staying healthy on the individual, says Zamperoni. At the same time, that social change is often slow so people do need resources they can draw on in the meantime.
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How Is Chronic Stress Treated
Patients with chronic stress often receive a treatment plan that targets their specific symptoms. A patient with digestive issues rooted in stress could go on medication, change his or her diet and also focus on stress reduction. As Sinha says, Its better to address these earlier, as a preventative approach.
Yale Medicines stress management recommendations include:
- Making time for leisure activities
- Building stress reduction skills
- Learning and practicing mindfulness
Mood Cognition And Behaviour
It is well established that chronic stress can lead to depression, which is a leading cause of disability worldwide. It is also a recurrent condition people who have experienced depression are at risk for future bouts of depression, particularly under stress.
There are many reasons for this, and they can be linked to changes in the brain. The reduced hippocampus that a persistent exposure to stress hormones and ongoing inflammation can cause is more commonly seen in depressed patients than in healthy people.
Chronic stress ultimately also changes the chemicals in the brain which modulate cognition and mood, including serotonin. Serotonin is important for mood regulation and wellbeing. In fact, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are used to restore the functional activity of serotonin in the brain in people with depression.
Sleep and circadian rhythm disruption is a common feature in many psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, play a key modulatory role in sleep. Elevated cortisol levels can therefore interfere with our sleep. The restoration of sleep patterns and circadian rhythms may therefore provide a treatment approach for these conditions.
Depression can have huge consequences. Our own work has demonstrated that depression impairs cognition in both non-emotional domains, such as planning and problem-solving, and emotional and social areas, such as creating attentional bias to negative information.
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Final Thoughts On Some Ways Chronic Stress Impacts Your Health And How To Fix It
Stress, in moderation, is simply a healthy biological response that keeps you alert, strong, and alive when you need it to. The fight-or-flight response fills your body with all the hormones it needs to persist through challenges. But chronic stress is more than just that. Its that fight-or-flight instinct but over a prolonged period. Its constantly feeling unsafe and uncomfortable for no logical or rational reason.
Learning to manage stress levels to prevent them from impacting your health is incredibly important. Otherwise, you could end up with many physical symptoms that could escalate to more severe diseases. Remember, theres no shame in asking for help. Indeed, the chances are that you will need professional aid in the positive management of chronic stress. Talk to your doctor if you feel that youre struggling with this form of stress!
Signs Its Time To Seek Help
Even with a good self-management plan, sometimes you may need more support. A mental health professional can be a great resource, but theyre particularly important to see more urgently if you have thoughts of self-harm or feel drawn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts. Call your healthcare provider or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK . Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger or go to the nearest emergency room.
Remember: Chronic stress is something many people experience, but it doesnt mean you have to slog through it, and certainly not alone. The sooner you get care and prioritize your own healing, the sooner you can feel more like yourself.
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Make A Daily Schedule
Using the example Ive already outlined, sketch out a daily routine that allows more time for relaxation. Just having a plan and schedule will allow you to feel less stressed. Even if work is full of stress, you can dominate the rest of your day leaving yourself feeling relaxed and better able to focus on the work part of your day. You may be surprised just how much a daily schedule can help things!
Stress Management And Chronic Pain Management
We just saw how overcoming stressors related to pain makes life easier and better, even though you continue to have chronic pain. We also saw how overcoming stressors can lead to better coping, which, in turn, makes chronic pain more tolerable. Doing so, however, is important for another reason: managing stress well also reduces pain itself.
We all know that stress makes chronic pain worse . No matter what the original cause of your pain, stress exacerbates the pain. You have probably noticed this fact.
Whether its from depression, insomnia, relationship or financial problems, stress affects us by its effect on the nervous system. Stress makes us tense and nervous literally. Our muscles becomes tight, particularly in certain areas of the body the low back, mid and upper back, shoulders, neck, head, forehead, and jaw are the most common areas . Over time, the chronically tense muscles can ache and spasm. In other words, the persistent stress that results from chronic pain can cause chronic muscle tension, which, is painful.
Chronic pain causes more pain! It does so through the stress that it causes, which subsequently activates the nervous system and the persistently stressed nervous system leads to chronic muscle tension, which becomes painful in and of itself.
When understanding the role of stress from this perspective, most every chronic pain patient readily understands it because they live it. They see how stress affects their pain levels from their own experience.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Stress Overload
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You dont notice how much its affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. Thats why its important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.
- Other mental or emotional health problems
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Loss of sex drive
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from others
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits
Why It’s A Problem
Chronic anxiety can prevent you from meeting your daily responsibilities, at work, at home or socially. It gets in the way of getting along with other people, both meeting new people and maintaining existing relationships, says Jane Timmons-Mitchell, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
The physical effects can be wide-ranging, as well. Anxiety can impact physical health in almost any way you can imagine, Zucker says. It’s very, very powerful. It can contribute to sleeplessness, gastrointestinal difficulties, breathing problems, back pain and cardiovascular disease.
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How Much Stress Is Too Much
Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, its important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is too much differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with lifes punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.
Factors that influence your stress tolerance level include:
Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, lifes pressures dont seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.
Your sense of control. If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, its easier to take stress in stride. On the other hand, if you believe that you have little control over your lifethat youre at the mercy of your environment and circumstancesstress is more likely to knock you off course.
Your attitude and outlook. The way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. If youre generally hopeful and optimistic, youll be less vulnerable. Stress-hardy people tend to embrace challenges, have a stronger sense of humor, believe in a higher purpose, and accept change as an inevitable part of life.
What Other Conditions Are Related To Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is linked to other conditions, both psychological and physical. These can include:
- Diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome, Type II diabetes, and arthritis
- Addiction to alcohol, nicotine and/or prescription drugs, and behavioral-related such as addiction to the internet, food, or gambling
- Mood disorders and anxiety disorders, which are common secondary diagnoses for people with chronic stress
Hypertension, depression, addiction and anxiety disorders are the conditions most related to chronic stress.
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Clean Your Room Desk Or Dishes
Besides removing clutter and giving you relief from a crowded space, cleaning is an effective mindfulness practice. One study found that students who washed dishes had greater states of mindfulness and positive moods.
If you dont have time to clean thoroughly, take this opportunity to organize items or tackle one cleaning task at a time. For example, if you have a load of laundry, use each washing and drying load to time your breaks.
Listen To Soothing Music
Listening to music can have a very relaxing effect on the body.
Slow-paced instrumental music can induce the relaxation response by helping lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as stress hormones.
Some types of classical, Celtic, Native American and Indian music can be particularly soothing, but simply listening to the music you enjoy is effective too .
Nature sounds can also be very calming. This is why theyre often incorporated into relaxation and meditation music.
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Best Ways To Manage Stress
Meditation can trigger the antidote to stress, called the relaxation response.
Goal setting and relaxation techniques reduce stress and ease the physical and emotional burdenit can take.
Stressful experiences come in many forms, such as a demanding job, a chronic disease, or an argument with a loved one. But all types of stressorseven stress from positive experiences,such as planning a partycan result in the same physical and emotional burden on health, especially when you’re an older adult. “As we age, our immune systems are less efficient, and adding stress to that can lead to disease progression or the onset of disease,” says Dr. Ann Webster, a health psychologist at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
It Harms The Cardiovascular System
Youve probably heard of stress leading to heart attacks. As it turns out, stress does have a terrible effect on the heart and its relevant organs, and research shows just how bad it can get. Once again, its important to understand how the cardiovascular system works to understand how stress affects it.
To nourish the whole body, the blood vessels and the heart work together to bring oxygen and nutrition across all the different organs. These two components are also important for forming the human bodys natural stress response. When you experience sudden and unexpected stress, for example, your heart muscles contract, stress hormones go rushing through your body, and your heart rate rushes to deliver the hormones quickly.
But with chronic stress, what happens is that the heart is always under this state of stress and difficulty. Youre constantly overworking your blood vessels and the muscles of your heart, and that means your blood pressure is high all the time. This heightens your risk of developing conditions such as a stroke, hypertension, or a heart attack and, at the very least, youll have to deal with circulatory inflammation, and it may even affect your cholesterol levels.
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