The Cost of Chronic Stress & How to Manage It

Apr. 1, 2019Stress, it’s an unavoidable reality of daily life. Whether you’re feeling nervous before a big interview, or rushing to find your keys before class, a little stress is not only natural, it’s even considered healthy in small amounts.



Stress is our bodies response to a physical or emotional threat. When we feel stress, the body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that increase the heart rate and in short, make us more alert and ready to take action. Thousands of years ago, this response from our bodies would have readied us to run from danger or defend ourselves. And in our modern times, a normal stress response prepares us for that big presentation or test. Best case scenario, a little stress can help you prepare for and achieve a major goal.

 

CAN STRESS BE POSITIVE?

The best example of positive stress, or eustress, is attending college or university. Sure, it’s stressful at times as you prepare for exams and work to achieve your goals, but the end result will be rewarding. Positive stress can help drive you to accomplish something great, but if that stress piles up without a proper stress management plan? That’s when a little stress turns into a lot of stress and becomes chronic stress, a condition many of us are all too familiar with in our modern lives.

For some, chronic stress is a string of sleepless nights – or too tired mornings after hours of tossing and turning. For others, it can manifest with gut issues and constant butterflies. And for many, it’s a bad mood that refuses to be shaken.

In a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, chronic stress affects approximately 8.3 million Americans – but the numbers are likely far higher due to non-reporting. Many researchers trace our collective uptick in chronic stress back to the Great Recession that began in 2007, but a quick glimpse into our daily lives reveals the many factors that increase our stress levels on a daily basis, like decreased access to healthcare, 24/7 accessibility on our smartphones, and too-demanding workloads.

 

SYMPTOMS OF CHRONIC STRESS

So, what are the symptoms of chronic stress? To put it simply, chronic stress is the feeling of being stuck in “fight or flight” mode – because you are stuck in fight or flight mode. Chronic stress symptoms could manifest as:

  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of irritability, low self-esteem, or helplessness
  • Sleeplessness despite feeling tired
  • Digestive upset
  • Feeling anxious
  • Low libido
  • Compromised immunity, resulting in frequent illnesses
  • Difficulty staying on task or concentrating
  • Burnout
  • Skin issues, including eczema and psoriasis

… And that’s just the shortlist.

While being a little sleepy may not sound so bad on paper, the symptoms of constant, chronic stress can lead to even more serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and it may exacerbate or even lead to mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.

HOW TO MANAGE IT

So, how do you manage chronic stress? The first step to tackling a constant feeling of being stressed out is actually identifying that you are stressed out. Many of us are so used to the feelings of being tired, grumpy, anxious and sick to our stomachs that we don’t realize that it could be stress that’s making us feel this way. A great first step is speaking to your doctor if you’re concerned about your health, then make an action plan to manage your stress using the tips below.

 

Identify your stress triggers

Are you answering emails at all hours of the night? Does your heart rate speed up when you hear a *ping* on your phone or company chat? Does your wall-to-wall schedule leave little room for relaxation or even sleep? The first step to managing stress is admitting you’re stressed and gaining an understanding of the factors that are causing the constant stress in your life.

 

Cut out “SNACCs”

Don’t worry, you can still enjoy snacks (we recommend the healthy kind, though), SNACC stands for Sugar, Nicotine, Alcohol, Chemicals, and Caffeine. If you’re experiencing chronic stress, it may be a good idea to cut out or limit the above, which can exacerbate the stress you’re already feeling. If you love coffee, try weaning yourself off the caffeinated kind and switch to decaf (it’s not as hard as it sounds). And when it comes to the other four, a smoking cessation program could help you kick a smoking habit, while an elimination diet – like the Whole30 – may help you manage sugar, alcohol and processed foods.

 

Establish boundaries

Once you’ve identified your stress triggers and limited the factors that make your stress worse, it’s time to establish some boundaries. While you can’t get rid of all the stressful factors in your life, you can set limits to allow yourself room to breathe and get some quality sleep. If you have trouble “turning off” after work, consider using the “night shift” mode on your phone to limit notifications coming in. If it’s not a requirement for your job, silence your ringer and edit your push notifications to only what’s absolutely necessary – and if none are life or death, we recommend doing away with them completely. If your packed schedule is making you sweat (another symptom of chronic stress), take a good, hard look at your calendar and say “no” to what’s not absolutely necessary.

 

Seek support

When your body is stuck in fight or flight mode, your adrenal system is often taxed, too. Supplementing with adaptogens could support your system in adapting after a period of stress, while adding supplements to your routine, like B vitamins, melatonin to support restful sleep at night, and magnesium and probiotics to support your gut may help your body in getting back to normal after suffering from chronic stress. If you have access to healthcare, this may also include finding the support of a doctor or licensed therapist who can help you work through the stressful factors in your life.

 

Add mindfulness and movement

If you have the habit of checking your phone as soon as you wake, try replacing that habit with 10 minutes of meditation in the morning. Instead of beginning each day reactively – checking your phone, texting, emailing, and scrolling through social media –try being proactive and add in some light stretching, meditation and/or hitting the gym. If a morning workout is out of the question, pencil in some time for exercise at lunch or after work – studies have shown that exercise isn’t just good for the body, it can support mood, ease stress and help you sleep soundly, too!

What’s your favorite way to de-stress? Share with us on social by tagging us @AvocadoMattress and #AvocadoGreenMagazine!

 

Julie O'Boyle

By Julie O'Boyle

 —  Julie O'Boyle is a freelance writer and content strategist with a background in fashion and DIY and a devotion to the outdoors and functional nutrition. Currently residing in the woods of Maine, when she's not writing you can find her at the beach or on a mountain, or otherwise getting her hands dirty.

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