Your breathing quickens, your heart starts to pound, your muscles tense up, and your hands become sweaty – you’re stressed. Experiencing stress is part of being human. We all get stressed from time to time, right? While a certain amount of stress can be good for you, feeling overwhelmed constantly can lead to serious health problems.
Stress helps you manage short-term threats by making you alert, energized, and able to withstand physical injury, but your body is not designed to stay in this hypervigilant state.
The constant elevation of stress hormones not only makes your body sick it also negatively impacts your brain. If you feel stress too often or for too long, the hormones in your body can lead to one or more of the many health problems associated with chronic stress.
If you experience frequent headaches, muscle pain, chest pain, fatigue, or sleep problems, it’s time to have a conversation about your stress.
Ready to manage your stress? Schedule a discovery call with us.
What is Chronic Stress? The Impact is Huge
Chronic stress is the result of repeated exposure to situations that cause your body to release stress hormones. The stress response is a complex system that involves the brain, nervous system, and HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis.
When you experience chronic stress, the HPA axis is constantly activated, causing it to become less sensitive to activation signals. As a result, the HPA axis becomes less sensitive to hormones, triggering the adrenals to produce more and more cortisol.
Chronic stress disrupts nearly every organ in your body, including your gut, brain, thyroid, and reproductive system. It has a big impact on your health.
How is Chronic Stress Different Than Regular Stress?
Stress can commonly be referred to as “acute stress,” meaning it only affects you in the short term. You may feel this type of stress when you are late to an appointment, give a public speech, or are almost in a car accident.
This type of stress can be good for you. Without it, you’d feel no motivation to practice that upcoming speech or pressure to meet a deadline for a client.
On the other hand, chronic stress lasts for long periods without any relief. Chronic stress is more damaging to your mind and body than acute stress.
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What Causes Chronic Stress?
Any long-term, emotionally stressful situation can lead to chronic stress. More than 40% of adults experience chronic stress, and it equally affects men and women.
Many causes of chronic stress are out of our control, such as financial problems, high-pressure jobs, childhood trauma, loneliness, substance abuse, caring for a sick relative, or major life changes like divorce. But there are some contributors to chronic stress that you can address through lifestyle changes. These include:
- Hormone imbalances
- Chronic pain and inflammation
- Autoimmune diseases
- Poor diet
- Consuming too much sugar or caffeine
- Food sensitivities
- Poor gut health
- Sleep deprivation
- Excessive exercise
How Chronic Stress Affects Your Body
Too much stress affects your body both physically and mentally. Common side effects of chronic stress include digestive issues, impaired resistance to colds and other infections, heart disease, sleep difficulties, weight gain, anxiety, and depression.
Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. Let’s talk about how chronic stress can affect each system specifically.
Chronic stress can lead to long-term problems for your heart and blood vessels. This is because chronic stress increases your heart rate and blood pressure, making the heart work harder to produce the blood flow it needs for bodily functions. Long-term elevations in your blood pressure are harmful and can cause heart attacks, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, or stroke. Stress can also cause increased production of stomach acid, leading to heartburn or acid reflux.
As the cardiovascular system reacts to acute stress, your breathing rate increases. This can cause you to hyperventilate, experience shortness of breath, or even have a panic attack. When your respiratory system is under long-term pressure from chronic stress, it can worsen the symptoms of pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma.
Elevated cortisol can suppress your immune system by limiting the production of white blood cells. Lower levels of white blood cells can delay your body’s response to infections, weaken your immune system, and make you more susceptible to disease.
The digestive system is particularly affected by chronic stress. With its impact on the cardiovascular system, chronic stress can limit blood flow and oxygen to the stomach. This can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Chronic stress can also contribute to the breakdown of the lining of the digestive tract, causing food sensitivities, autoimmune conditions, and more.
Muscular System and Skeletal System
Acute stress causes your muscles to tense and prepare to protect you from injury or harm. When you are dealing with chronic stress, you are more likely to experience frequent or even chronic headaches, backaches, and shoulder pain. Chronic stress can also cause the diminishing of calcium in your bones.
Symptoms of Too Much Stress
Too many people accept chronic stress as a way of life and just muscle through it without taking the long-term consequences seriously. Ask yourself some questions. Do you wake up every day with low energy? Do you notice that you get colds more often? Does your mind race at night? Are you struggling to lose or gain weight? Are you irritable for no good reason?
These are all symptoms of chronic stress. Wondering if you’re living with chronic stress? Here are some of the common symptoms that may indicate it’s an issue for you:
- Regular headaches
- Memory and concentration issues
- Rapid, disorganized thoughts
- Difficulty sleeping
- Digestive problems
- Changes in appetite
- Low self-esteem
- Loss of sexual desire
- Frequent infections or illnesses
- Poor immune system
- High blood pressure
Symptoms of chronic stress shouldn’t be ignored. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to remove stress from your life entirely. But you can take steps to improve your wellbeing and reduce stress, including eating a balanced diet, getting a good night’s sleep, or trying yoga and meditation.
How Functional Medicine Treats Chronic Stress
Functional medicine can improve your body’s capacity to handle stress and provide tools to help you transform the stress you have. Tri-Cities Functional Medicine uses a holistic and inclusive approach that involves running specific tests, an in-depth lifestyle and medical history, and a physical exam. The tests evaluate things such as your micronutrient levels, blood sugar levels, and stress hormone levels.
The results of these components help us determine the root cause of your stress and develop a personalized treatment plan which includes and educational curriculum focused on lifestyle modifications from our 5 Pillars of Health, as well as supplementation and adjunct treatments to help you break the cycle of chronic stress and live a healthy life.
What do you have to lose? Stress. Anxiety. Illness.
What do you have to gain? Mental health. Improved memory. More energy.
The Tri-Cities Functional Medicine team is here for you whenever you need help, support, or more information.
Does this resonate with you? Schedule a free discovery call today.
Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout East Tennessee and into Virginia and North Carolina. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, and Abingdon, VA.