Chronic Stress Is Making You Sick

Here’s How to Com­bat It

Whether it’s a busy week at work, an argu­ment with a friend, or crunchtime before a major pre­sen­ta­tion, we all find our­selves in stress­ful situations.

Stress is your body’s response to a chal­leng­ing or dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, and a small amount of stress can actu­al­ly be a good thing. Stress helps us accom­plish dai­ly activ­i­ties and can improve our abil­i­ty to prob­lem-solve. It’s also what’s respon­si­ble for the body releas­ing the hor­mones need­ed for the fight or flight” response, which makes you pre­pared to pro­tect your­self from harm.

In many cas­es, stress is acute, mean­ing it’s a short-term reac­tion to a new, excit­ing, or dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion. But when stress per­sists for sev­er­al weeks or months, it is con­sid­ered chron­ic. Chron­ic stress can put you at an increased risk for con­di­tions like heart dis­ease, dia­betes, depres­sion or anx­i­ety, low libido (sex­u­al desire), upset stom­ach, migraines, or men­stru­al prob­lems. If you already have a health con­di­tion, chron­ic stress can make it worse. 

For­tu­nate­ly, here are 7 ways to man­age stress and pre­vent it from neg­a­tive­ly affect­ing your health.

1. Get Your Zzzs

Prob­lems with stress and sleep go hand-in-hand.

Most adults in the US should aim to get about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. There are many ways to improve your sleep, such as:

  • Tak­ing a cool show­er or bath before bed, and ensur­ing that your bed­room is between about 60 to 67 °F.

  • Stop­ping screen time an hour or two before bed. 

  • Going to bed around the same time every night and wak­ing up at the same time every morn­ing — even on weekends.

  • Avoid­ing caf­feine, alco­hol, nico­tine, and big meals before bedtime.

  • Get­ting up if you can’t sleep. After 30 min­utes of try­ing unsuc­cess­ful­ly to fall asleep, get up and do some­thing relax­ing until you’re sleepy.

2. Stay Active Dur­ing the Day

When you are phys­i­cal­ly active, your body pro­duces chem­i­cals called endor­phins. Endor­phins are known as nat­ur­al painkillers, but they have oth­er jobs, too. They can help you sleep, which can then decrease stress. If you’re in a cur­rent state of stress, endor­phins calm your body down so that you can cope. 

The Amer­i­can Heart Asso­ci­a­tion rec­om­mends that most healthy adults should get at least 150 min­utes of medi­um-inten­si­ty aer­o­bic activ­i­ty (like brisk walk­ing) or 75 min­utes of high­er-inten­si­ty activ­i­ty (like run­ning) every week. Addi­tion­al­ly, they should per­form mus­cle-strength­en­ing exer­cis­es (like lift­ing weights) at least twice a week. 

You don’t need to fight chron­ic stress on your own. Con­tact your pri­ma­ry care provider at Duly Health and Care. 

3. Try the Mediter­ranean Diet

Chron­ic stress can make you crave high-calo­rie, sug­ar-filled com­fort foods. How­ev­er, these foods aren’t very nutri­tious and won’t improve your stress levels. 

Foods high in dietary fiber and omega‑3 fat­ty acids, and fer­ment­ed foods (e.g., plain yogurt) are help­ful for fight­ing stress and anx­i­ety. These over­lap with the foods that are part of the Mediter­ranean diet, which is one of the top-ranked diets in the US.

The Mediter­ranean diet is full of plant-based, min­i­mal­ly processed foods and gen­er­al­ly includes:

  • High amounts of fruits, veg­eta­bles, pota­toes, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds

  • Low to mod­er­ate amounts of eggs, dairy prod­ucts, fish, and poultry

  • Olive oil, as the main source of fat

4. Take a Break From Social Media

You don’t need to delete your accounts or give up Face­book for months at a time. Just a short hia­tus can do the trick. Even one week away from social media can reduce symp­toms of anx­i­ety and depres­sion — which are both asso­ci­at­ed with chron­ic stress. 

5. Say No”

It can be tempt­ing to say yes” to every­thing that comes your way — but you need to set lim­its. Make a list of every­thing you have com­mit­ted to (both work and non-work) for the next few weeks or months, and see if there is any­thing that isn’t absolute­ly nec­es­sary. Then, give your­self a lim­it on how many activ­i­ties or hours you can devote to new things. Once you hit your lim­it, remem­ber that it’s total­ly fine to say no.”

6. Prac­tice Mindfulness

Mind­ful­ness describes being com­plete­ly aware of — and accept­ing with­out judg­ment — what is hap­pen­ing in a par­tic­u­lar moment with­in your body and sur­round­ings. It is a known stress reliev­er, and it works by influ­enc­ing two of the stress path­ways in your brain, which changes the activ­i­ty and struc­ture in the areas that con­trol emo­tion and attention. 

There are many ways to prac­tice mind­ful­ness, such as med­i­ta­tion, yoga, and even art ther­a­py.

Learn how you can incor­po­rate mind­ful­ness into your every­day life. 

7. Reach Out for Support

Your social cir­cle may be an untapped resource. A trust­ed friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber can lend you an ear, and give you advice if they went through a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. Once they are aware of your chron­ic stress, they may be able to do things to help, like offer to take cer­tain things off your plate. 

Just be care­ful to avoid a stress olympics” sit­u­a­tion. While it can be help­ful to hear from oth­ers who have gone through some­thing sim­i­lar, it can just com­pound stress if you and your friends start one-upping each oth­er about who is more stressed. 

You may also ben­e­fit from work­ing with a men­tal health pro­fes­sion­al, like a psy­chol­o­gist. They can help you iden­ti­fy what stress­es you out and dis­cov­er new strate­gies for cop­ing that are unique to you.

  • I have a background in mental health, social work and family medicine and have pursued additional education in functional medicine and energy modalities. I employ alternative/nonpharmacological interventions to support resilience and well being. My goal is to educate and empower patients so that may minimize medication and find healing and balance in their lives.