Our bodies haven’t changed a lot in the past 10 centuries, but the way we live is worlds apart. But unfortunately, our bodies were made for the earlier lifestyle where threats were mostly imminent and the fight or flight response had a literal purpose.
Today, things are quite different and most stress is recurring.
The problem with recurring stress
When you feel stressed, your body sends out adrenal hormones to increase your heart rate, oxygen intake, mental focus and blood pressure. All the while, it’s also suppressing any non-critical functions. These are things like digestion and cell repair. This is the body’s way of redirecting energy, so you can get ready to fight or flee.
But work deadlines and money problems don’t respond so well to fight or flight reactions. There’s not much you can do in the moment to mitigate them, so your body remains in a state of heightened reaction (and stress).
This is especially problematic because of the processes the body has slowed or eliminated. And that’s how chronic stress can lead to chronic disease.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the effects of chronic stress on your body and life. Here are five ways to deal with recurring stress in a healthy way.
Limit your to-do list
We can’t limit every source of chronic stress, but we can make strides in our overall wellbeing by limiting the stressors we can handle.
For example, let’s say your boss is stressing you out at work and you’re in the middle of a DIY home renovation. Every little thing that goes wrong adds to the growing list of reasons why you feel stressed, and you’re likely to snap. Think about what you can do to mitigate stress from the renovation. Can you hire someone else to handle the work? Or maybe you can postpone parts of the work to a less stressful time.
So many of us attempt to power through moments like these, but remember that they can be very damaging to your health, especially if you already suffer from underlying chronic disease.
Getting more sleep is often easier said than done, but there are some things you can do to improve your night’s rest.
Change your sleep habits to allow time to decompress from a day before you attempt to sleep. An hour or two before your scheduled bedtime should do the trick. Try doing something relaxing like reading a book or taking a bath. Avoid television and technology because these things can mess with your circadian rhythm.
If you still can’t sleep try natural remedies like chamomile tea, CBD or melatonin.
Try breathing exercises
Breathing exercises may sound like an overly-simplistic answer to a complex problem, but Harvard Medical School actually described deep belly breathing as one of the most powerful tools for restoring your body after stress.
This type of abdominal breathing helps regulate the heart rate, improves blood oxygen levels and releases tension in the body. All you have to do is sit and take a deep breath through your nose until your chest fills. Then, exhale and be sure to expand your belly as you push the breath outward. You may start feeling relaxed after a few deep breaths.
Reduce alcohol and caffeine
Both alcohol and caffeine can worsen symptoms of chronic stress. And if you’re used to relying on both, it becomes a vicious cycle that has a major detrimental impact on your body.
When you drink alcohol before bed, as many people do, it can interfere with your body’s ability to enter a deep, restorative sleep cycle. And this will leave you tired the next day, so you’ll be reaching for an extra cup or two of coffee.
Caffeine compounds the issue of chronic stress because it increases cortisol and epinephrine. In fact, studies have shown that cortisol levels after caffeine are similar to those during acute stress.
If you’re having trouble quitting that nightly glass of beer or wine, you may need help. Look for recovery coaching options in your area. When you get the alcohol consumption and sleep under control, you should be able to start cutting back on caffeine.
Chronic stress can be incredibly damaging, but there are healthy ways to mitigate its effects on the body.