Seek Help From A Professional
Because chronic stress can be difficult to identify, talking things out with a mental health care professional could make it easier to pinpoint where the stress is stemming from and how to better manage it. Additionally, journaling consistently, particularly first thing in the morning, is a great way to observe ones thoughts, including those that have become so habitual.
Seeking out a doctor who practices integrative medicine, or medicine that takes into account the whole person, including lifestyle choices, can also be helpful in reversing the impact of stress. Since stress can damage the body, depleting it of vital vitamins and nutrients, it can be helpful to have tests performed that identify what it may be lacking. Rebuilding the immune system can also help to better combat stress.
Identifying Causes Of Stress
Managing stress is easier when you understand why, when and how youre experiencing stress, along with how youre currently handling it. Take time to think about what areas of your life are causing stress. Keep a journal with you and write down peak moments of stress during the day. Tracking the causes of stress, and your reactions to it, will help you identify areas in your life where you may want to make changes.
Common causes of stress include:
- Work related stress: Such as deadlines, a long commute and interpersonal office issues
- Family related stress: Such as relationship problems, household concerns and family obligations
- Financial stress: Such as stress related to bills and other expenses
- Health stress: Such as stress that comes from frustration over weight gain, chronic pain and the onset of aging symptoms.
Once youve become more aware of what your current sources of and responses to stress are, you can make lifestyle modifications to manage stress more efficiently.
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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Plasticity And The Brain: The Bodys Recovery System
Plasticity, or neuroplasticity, refers to the ways that neural pathways are able to re-form in the brain. Its true that these pathways like the one between the hippocampus and the amygdala can get severely damaged due to constant exposure to stress, but such changes are not necessarily permanent. While stress can negatively affect the brain, the brain and body can recover.
Young adults, especially, are able to recover from the effects of stress, according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . Age has a direct correlation with the reversibility of stress-related damage. Its much more difficult for older adults to regain or create new neural pathways than their younger counterparts.
Thats not to say all hope is lost for older adults. PNAS points out that interventions, or activities that combat stress wear-and-tear on the brain, are effective regardless of age. Interventions including activities like exercising regularly, socializing and finding purpose in life enable plasticity.
It can seem like stress is an inevitable part of life, but chronic stress can have real and significant consequences on the brain. Understanding these effects and how to combat them can help promote overall health.
How Stress And The Nervous System Are Linked
When we are confronted with a stressful experience, the amygdala part of the brain sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which activates the nervous system and adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream. As adrenaline circulates through the body, it brings about a number of physiological changes, such as that pounding heart and rapid breathing.4 Even blood pressure goes up. These changes can happen so quickly that many people dont even notice them.
When adrenaline subsides, the nervous system keeps your body revved up with cortisol. When the threat passes, cortisol levels are meant to fall, but for many people who deal with chronic stress, perceived threats are constant, leading the body to stay at high alert.
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The Effects Of Chronic Stress On The Body And The Brain
What is chronic stress?
Chronic stress is a type of stress that is experienced over a prolonged period of time, as opposed to acute stress, which is experienced briefly. The bodys reaction to stress is meant to protect us from predators and other threats.
What happens when we encounter a stressor?
Here is what happens in your brain and in your body in response to a stressor: a region of the brain called hypothalamus sends signal to the bodys adrenal glands, which then release stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol acts to increase glucose levels in the bloodstream and enhances the brains ability to use glucose, and also plays a role in increasing tissue repair. Adrenaline is the hormone involved in the fight or flight response to stress: it increases the heart rate and blood pressure, and dilates the airways in order to prepare you to defend yourself or run away. Together, adrenaline and cortisol are key players in the alarm system that is crucial for our survival. When the stressor is gone, our hormone levels and the physiological processes in our bodies return to normal.
What happens to our bodies under chronic stress?
Cardiovascular Function And Water
Our body is mostly made of water the range is between 55% in women to 65% water in men. Our blood is fluid because of this water content. The amount of water present contributes to what is known as blood volume.
Blood volume is directly related to blood pressure. Higher blood volume means higher blood pressure. A lot of water makes the heart work harder. This is why certain blood pressure medications are designed to reduce the amount of water in the system. Less water means lower blood pressure.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
|A big problem in todays world is that we often do not use up the energy we consume. When we were mammoth hunters, we ran like crazy and used up the energy. But today, the stress response system secretes stress hormones when we are stuck in traffic or sitting at our desk at work. Why do we speak about mammoth hunters?|
If everyday levels of stress hormones are high then the delicate salt/water balance that keeps our heart working normally can be disrupted. In the long-run, this can lead to cardiovascular disease.
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Understanding How Stress Affects The Brain
Professionals working in health and human services or psychology have the opportunity to help others manage their stress effectively and understand how stress affects the brain. Touro University Worldwide offers a variety of fully online degree programs at the bachelors, masters and doctoral level that prepare students for careers in these fields.
Effects Of Chronic Stress On Hematopoietic Stem Cells In Cardiovascular Diseases
Heidt and colleagues demonstrated how stress increases the levels of circulating inflammatory leukocytes by direct stimulation of hematopoietic stem cell proliferation . In this new pathway, stress induces the release of noradrenaline by sympathetic nerve fibers targeting blood vessels in the bone marrow of mice. The catecholamine then acts on mesenchymal stem cells located in the hematopoietic niche, which express high levels of the 3 adrenergic receptors. One of the consequences of this interaction is the downregulation of the chemokine CXCL12, a known target of noradrenaline, which is normally produced by several types of niche cells, including mesenchymal stem cells. This releases the inhibition typically exerted by CXCL12 on the proliferation of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells and on leukocyte migration, thus promoting cell division and leukocyte mobilization into the bloodstream.
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Recovering From Chronic Stress
Identifying your triggers is a good start in recovering from chronic stress. Here are some other actions to consider:
References: 1https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder, 2https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/neuro/conditioninfo/parts, 3https://open.lib.umn.edu/humanbiology/chapter/3-2-parts-of-the-nervous-system/, 4https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response, 5https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987, 6https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder, 7https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation, 8https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469, 9https://exploreim.ucla.edu/nutrition/eat-right-drink-well-stress-less-stress-reducing-foods-herbal-supplements-and-teas/
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.
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The Good News About Stress
Not all stress is bad, and the hormones that the body produces in response to stress aren’t, either. Their levels actually fluctuate throughout the day as you adapt to challenges such as waking up , getting stuck in traffic, or being surprised for your birthday.
Its also possible to manage stress by doing small things like deep breathing, taking a walk, listening to a meditation app, or even grabbing your childs fidget spinner to distract yourself from whatevers stressing you out. Any of these strategies can help short-circuit the bodys fight-or-flight response, stopping the flood of stress hormones from revving up your blood pressure and heart rate.
Increased Chance Of Cardiovascular Disease
Studies have shown that chronic stress is a contributing factor of cardiovascular disease. One of the reasons is because it can cause high blood pressure.
Examples of cardiovascular disease include:
- Heart failure and heart attacks
- Heart muscle disease
- Aorta disease and Marfan syndrome
According to the Frontiers in Oncology journal, chronic stress can promote cancer development.
They state that because of this, cancer patients and healthy people can both benefit from stress management.
According to the CDC, cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US.
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The Effects Of Chronic Stress
Your nervous system isnt very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If youre super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if youre facing a true life-or-death situation. And the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off.
If you tend to get stressed out frequently, like many of us in todays demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:
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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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Leading Causes Of Stress
Stress occurs for a number of reasons. The 2015 Stress in America survey reported that money and work were the top two sources of stress for adults in the United States for the eighth year in a row. Other common contributors included family responsibilities, personal health concerns, health problems affecting the family and the economy.
The study found that women consistently struggle with more stress than men. Millennials and Generation Xers deal with more stress than baby boomers. And those who face discrimination based on characteristics such as race, disability status or LGBT identification struggle with more stress than their counterparts who do not regularly encounter such societal biases.
Practice Yoga And Meditation
A 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology found that mind-body interventions such as yoga, meditation, and Tai-Chi, can actually produce molecular changes in DNA. According to the study, those who practice these activities may be able to reduce the risk of inflammation and inflammation-related diseases when under stress. In other words, according to the studys authors, MBIs reverse the negative effects of stress by literally changing your biology.
How Can You Manage Stress
You might be able to deal with the situation thats causing chronic stress directly. For example, if you are working too many late hours, maybe you can talk to your boss about your workload.
But there are times when you might not be able to get rid of the source of stress. Financial problems, family conflicts, and work demands dont always have simple solutions. At those times, it is important that you care for yourself so that you are better able to live with your stress.
When you are under stress, you are more likely to make poor lifestyle choices. For example, you may eat more unhealthy foods, get less sleep or use alcohol excessively. However, when you recognize your symptoms of stress, you can make lifestyle choices to help you cope better.
Here are some strategies to help you care your yourself when you are feeling stressed out:
Stress is an expected part of our busy lives. However, when you understand the purpose of stress and how you can manage it, you can experience greater health and well-being.
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How Stress Affects Your Body
Another infographic from Healthline shows the effects of stress on your body.
Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Everyone expresses stress from time to time. Anything from everyday responsibilities like work and family to serious life events such as a new diagnosis, war, or the death of a loved one can trigger stress. For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health. It can help you cope with potentially serious situations. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond.
Yet if your stress response doesnt stop firing, and these stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a toll on your health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect your overall well-being. Symptoms of chronic stress include:
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