Long-term ongoing stress can have physical impacts on your body and health. Learn the risks of ongoing stress, and how to help treat it today.
Did you know that women are twice as likely to suffer from stress and anxiety than men? Stress is a natural response to life's challenges, and we’ve certainly had a lot of those lately! And while some stress is inevitable, it can have serious consequences on our health if left unchecked. Long-term stress has widespread impacts on your body, and can lead to a range of different physical, behavioural, and cognitive symptoms. Here, we'll discuss how to reduce stress. We’ll explore the long-term effects of stress on the body, the natural stress response, and simple lifestyle measures to treat and reduce stress.
What is the natural stress response?
The natural stress response is a physiological reaction that occurs when your body senses a threat. From an evolutionary perspective, we are wired to respond to stress to enable our survival. This is known as our “fight or flight” response. It triggers the release of a cascade of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that surge through the body, allowing us to escape from the perceived ‘threat’. These hormones make us more alert, increase our heart rate, mobilise stored fuel for energy and focus and send blood circulation to our limbs to prepare our muscles to run/escape.
Whilst this lifesaving response allowed our ancestors to escape predators in the jungle, unfortunately this very same response is triggered anytime when we are late and stuck in traffic, fight with our partner or have a disagreement with our manager. Modern life presents myriad challenges that our physiology wasn’t wired to contend with, and this physiological response is in overdrive all the time. As you can imagine, this is having significant consequences on our mental and physical health.
What are the effects of stress on the body?
The effects of stress on the body are widespread and can be physical, behavioural, and cognitive, or all the above! Here are some of the ways stress might manifest for you:
1. Physical symptoms of stress
- Muscle tension
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping difficulties
- Increased heart rate or feelings of anxiety
2. Behavioural symptoms of stress
- Overeating or undereating
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Increased aggression or irritability
- Restlessness or fidgeting
3. Cognitive symptoms of stress
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate or brain fog
- Decreased productivity
- Racing thoughts
- Negative self-talk
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
What are the risks of long-term stress?
The risks of long-term stress are significant and can affect many aspects of your life. Chronic stress can increase your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and mental health conditions. It can also weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and infections. Long-term stress can also cause digestive issues, accelerate the ageing process, and impact your mental and emotional health.
How to treat & reduce stress
Admittedly, stress management isn’t easy. In fact, it can be pretty tough at times. So, here are some simple things you can incorporate into your daily routine to help ease the pressure:
- Exercise regularly: Exercise releases endorphins, which can help reduce stress and improve your mood. It’s the perfect way to decompress after a big day.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga can all help reduce stress, even with just 5 minutes per day.
- Get enough sleep: Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to help your body repair and recover.
- Nourish your body with good food: Eating a healthy, balanced diet incorporating a variety of different foods can help reduce stress and improve your overall health.
- Time in nature: Research shows that connecting with nature and simply viewing greenery can incite feelings of calm, joy, and creativity. Grab a colleague and go for a walk around the block during lunch or take walking meetings to help incorporate this into your day.
- Try a supplement aid: certain supplements can assist in the management of stress. Vida Glow’s De-Stress is formulated with Serenzo™ a clinically studied extract shown to reduce symptoms of stress and mild anxiety in as soon as 6 weeks.
- Seek support: Sometimes we just need to get everything off our chest. Talking to a therapist, joining a support group, or confiding in a trusted friend or family member can help you process challenges and find ways to overcome them.
If you need some additional mental health support, here are some helpful resources:
- Lifeline (13 11 14)
- Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800)
- Head to Health National Phone Service (1800 595 212, www.headtohealth.gov.au)
- Head to Health Adult Mental Health Centres (www.headtohealth.gov.au/supporting-yourself/adult-mental-health-centres)
- QLife – phone peer support service by LGBTIQ+ peers for all ages. 3pm-midnight. 1800 184 527 or webchat www.qlife.org.au