Stress is the body’s natural reaction to harmful situations – whether they are real or perceived, physical or mental, emotional or an event. The chemical reaction of the stress response causes an increased heart rate, breath quickens, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises all due to your body being flooded with cortisol and adrenaline. While these hormones are essential when they activate occasionally, prolonged exposure can wreak havoc on your health. Let’s look at the causes of chronic stress, the symptoms and issues that can arise, and how to break the cycle.

Causes of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can be caused by a variety of outside factors including a rigorous work schedule, emotional trauma from unhealthy relationships or the death of a loved one, lack of sleep, a poor diet high in processed and junk foods, and overconsumption of stimulants like caffeine and sugar. There is also internal chronic stress from biological imbalances that are often overlooked by conventional medicine related to gut health. Also, a persistent repetitive, negative internal dialogue can trigger a cycle of chronic stress. Most of these causes can be mitigated by a change in habits, but first, what are some of the symptoms?

Symptoms of Stress

The physical symptoms can include insomnia, low energy, headaches, stomach and digestion issues, aches and pains, low sexual desire, nervousness, and frequent illness. Being in a state of stress does not allow your body the time and energy to heal.  Emotional symptoms can include being easily agitated, feeling overwhelmed, having low self-esteem, and having a hard time relaxing and quieting the mind. Stress never allows your mind to take a break and reset.

Behavioral symptoms can include change in appetite, avoiding responsibilities, increased use of alcohol or nicotine or other drugs, and development of nervous behaviors like nail biting. Stress hormones create a physiological response that can manifest in various ways.

Diseases Linked to Chronic Stress

Several diseases can be created by chronic stress and others that stress can make more dangerous. High consistent levels of the hormone cortisol have been shown to lead to increased weight gain. High blood pressure is part of the stress reaction with studies showing an increased risk of developing diabetes in extreme cases. Headaches are one of the most common side effects and can become a feedback loop of negativity making daily living difficult. Depression and anxiety are also common due to the close connection to the natural response to stress hormones. There are also gastrointestinal issues such as heartburn and IBS that can result from chronic stress.

Ways to Break the Cycle of Chronic Stress

Thankfully there are many ways to help improve your ability to absorb stressful events and change your habits that lead to stress reactions. If this is a persistent issue, consulting with a holistic practitioner who can determine where your imbalances occur is important. Everyone is unique and having an expert to help navigate the issues can be vital. Here are a few techniques and habits that can help limit stress and may break the cycle.

Mindful movements such as deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, walks, and spending time outside have profound effects on mood and sleep.  Prioritize proper sleep hygiene to ensure that you are giving your body the proper time to heal and repair.  Aim for 7-9 hours per night.  Eating a balanced diet while cutting back on processed foods and sugars is critical to alleviating the daily stress a poor diet can inflict. Putting your phone away, especially an hour or two before bed helps eliminate stressors and allows for better sleep.  Developing a meditation practice is quite helpful.  There are plenty of studies that support that meditation (practiced regularly) triggers the relaxation response promoting a state of calmness.  It also reduces cortisol levels, helps with improved emotional regulation, and helps with lowering blood pressure.  Supporting your gut and its healthy microbiome through the consumption of probiotic-rich foods. Also addressing any imbalances or issues, as the gut-brain axis plays a significant role in stress regulation.