Stress is an inherent part of life. While it’s usually thought of as a negative, the truth is that not all stress is bad.
For instance, intense physical activity, a la resistance training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), is a type of stress that is immensely beneficial to the body. When stress goes “bad” is when the body is in a state of constant, unrelenting stress (i.e chronic stress).
In this scenario, multiple things go wrong and can have deleterious consequences for the body and mind if not corrected.
Today, we’ll discuss how chronic stress impacts your life as well as the steps you can take (beginning TODAY) to promote a healthier life-stress balance.
What is Chronic Stress?
As we just mentioned, chronic stress occurs when the body’s stress response is activated and remains activated for a considerable length of time.
When we’re stressed, a flood of chemicals and hormones, including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, are released.
In times of acute stress (such as during intense exercise or when you’re being chased by a cheetah), this is extremely beneficial.
However, this constant state of high alert is not something that your body was made to endure. Yet, these days, many individuals live in a state of high stress for one reason or another.
To make things more complicated, there are multiple stress inputs, and while these inputs may differ, the end result is the same in terms of your hormones and biochemistry -- wonky hormones that lead to disrupted metabolism and physiology.
Some examples of the different types of stress that individuals may encounter on a weekly, if not daily, basis are:
- Psychological stress (finances, job, etc.)
- Emotional stress (spouse, significant other, family, etc.)
- Physical stress (exercise, injury, illness, etc.)
All of these tap into the same “recovery reservoir” the body has, and (as you probably know) there is only so much you can tolerate and recover from in a given time before you “snap.”
With that in mind, here’s how chronic stress affects the body.
How Does Chronic Stress Affect the Body?
During periods of high stress, blood pressure and heart rate increase. Over time, elevated blood pressure and heart rate can damage the cardiovascular system, leading to increased risk of stroke, heart attack, heart disease, and systemic inflammation (which itself can contribute to other chronic diseases).
Stressful situations can lead to rapid breathing or shortness of breath, which can pose serious consequences for individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD.
When faced with a stressful situation, the body kicks out a number of hormones, including adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol (the primary “stress hormone'').
Chronically elevated levels of cortisol can reduce testosterone levels, impair sleep, disrupt energy metabolism, and increase fat storage (particularly around the midsection).
Chronic stress can lead to inflammation, including in the gut. Side effects of stress on the GI system include heartburn (acid reflux), nausea, bloating, loose stools or constipation.
Cortisol levels increase and remain elevated during chronic stress. In case you weren’t aware, cortisol is a catabolic hormone, and when left unchecked, it can lead to muscle breakdown as well as impair muscle protein synthesis.
This impair muscle recovery and growth while also increasing the risk of injury, illness, and muscle loss.
How Does Chronic Stress Affect Your Mind?
Chronic stress can reduce mood and feelings of well-being. It can also make it more difficult to concentrate, focus, remember, or be productive. Chronic stress also reduces motivation and desire to do anything, including exercising or making good food choices.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Stress?
Chronic stress can manifest itself in many ways, including:
- Poor mood
- Muscle weakness
- Body aches
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Increased irritability or aggressiveness
- Increased anxiety
- Lack of energy
- Increased illness
- Stomach discomfort
How to Combat Chronic Stress
One of the single best things you can do to beat chronic stress is to exercise.
Even if chronic stress has crushed your motivation or desire to exercise, this is one of those instances where you need to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” and do it.
The reason for this is that exercise releases a flood of feel-good chemicals, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) that reduce psychological/emotional stress and increase mood and well-being.
Now, your workout doesn’t have to be some PR-shattering one. Even low-to-moderate levels of intensity are enough to kickstart the feel-good chemicals of the body.
The important thing is to be active, even if you’re not really “feeling it.”
For an added boost of motivation, it can be helpful to use a pre workout supplement, such as 1UP Pre Men or 1UP Pre Women, for a boost of “liquid encouragement” when your own faculties aren’t up to snuff.
Again, like the last point, while you may not “feel” like going outside when your stressed, it can actually be one of the best things for you.
We weren’t meant to be cooped up indoors 24/7. Our bodies are made to move, interact with others, and be outside.
Research even shows that spending time in nature can help reduce both physical and psychological stress levels.
Other studies indicate that spending as little as 20 minutes outdoors can drastically reduce stress and cortisol levels.
If you want to kill two birds with one stone, you could take your daily workout outdoors, where you’ll also get some much needed vitamin D.
In case you weren’t aware, low levels of vitamin D (a very common nutrient deficiency) are associated with increased levels of depression and stress.
How you choose to spend your time outdoors (walking, hiking, biking, working out, etc.) is up to you, just make sure you do it each day.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep and stress have an interesting relationship. Many people have difficulties sleeping because they are stressed, and then not getting a good night’s rest makes them even further stressed.
Yet a great night’s sleep (heck, even a decent night’s sleep) can do wonders to help alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety.
The problem for most individuals is getting to sleep.
To get better sleep at night, here are some helpful suggestions:
- Establish (and maintain) a consistent bedtime
- Avoid sources of additional stress (social media, news, work emails, text messages, etc.) before bed
- Avoid blue light at least two hours before bed (TV, computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.)
- Make your bedroom cool & dark
- Wear loose, comfortable clothes to bed
- Take a warm bath or shower before bed
- Listen to relaxing music
Another thing to consider are supplements to help take the edge off and promote feelings of calm. This is the exact reason we created RELAX.
RELAX contains a precise blend of hand-picked ingredients, including KSM-66 ashwagandha, lemon balm, and L-Theanine, to promote a healthy stress response, reduce feelings of edginess, and encourage a state of calm, relaxation without sedation.
The end result is a natural supplement that can be taken anytime of day to help you navigate the follies, pitfalls, and stressors of everyday life.
- Ewert A, Chang Y. Levels of Nature and Stress Response. Behav Sci (Basel). 2018;8(5):49. Published 2018 May 17. doi:10.3390/bs8050049
- MaryCarol R. Hunter, Brenda W. Gillespie, Sophie Yu-Pu Chen. Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology, 2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722