Everyday life is a stressor all on its own. But, according to Yale Medicine, chronic stress is a constant feeling of pressure and overwhelm over a long period of time. This stress doesn’t disappear or improve on its own. It is something that the person deals with day in and day out. Some of us have gotten so good at “dealing with it” that we don’t even realize that it isn’t normal or the damage that it is doing to our bodies.
Some symptoms of chronic stress include but are not limited to:
- aches and pains,
- unfocused thoughts,
- decreased socialization,
- fatigue or exhaustion,
- increase in alcohol or drug use,
- change in appetite (overeating or not eating enough),
- headaches, and
- digestive problems.
Causes of Chronic Stress
Everyone feels stress at some point in their life. Some can adapt easily to these changes, while others feel the continuous ongoing pressure that just seems to build up. Chronic stress can come from major things such as poverty, dysfunctional marriage, working a job you hate, dealing with a trauma, untreated health problems, or chronic health problems. It can even come from a constant waterfall of small stressors that just seem to build up overtime such as traffic, constantly being on the go, or a high-pressured job. More often than not, chronic stress is the result of a combination of the two.
Our fight-or-flight response is our way of dealing with this stress. The problem is, this response was designed to be used occasionally and when your life is in actual danger, such as being chased by a tiger or avoiding a car accident. However, with the advances of western society and the new “norms” of our packed lifestyles, we are using this fight-or-flight response frequently and at some degree, almost constantly. This response is hard on our bodies and can make us become physically and emotionally ill in the short term or even the long term.
Long Term Effects of Chronic Stress
Chronic stress itself has been linked to adverse health problems. Imagine a time when you were experiencing some stress or anxiety over a situation. When your body is in fight or flight mode your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, bowel patterns slow, adrenaline floods your body so sleep is impossible. Now imagine your body constantly in this mode. These constant chemicals in the body and stress on our system has its own effects. Chronic stress is linked to both psychological and physical conditions that include:
- Mood and anxiety disorders, includes depression
- Diseases such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease (leading cause of death in the US), obesity and metabolic syndrome, arthritis, and Type II Diabetes.
- Addiction to alcohol, nicotine, or prescription drugs.
- Behavioral related addictions to internet, food, or gambling.
5 Foods That Help with Chronic Stress
- Tea, such as chamomile, peppermint, valerian root, macha, lemon balm, green, lavender, passionflower, and rosehip, all have great stress relieving qualities. For some it is the scent that helps to relieve stress, others reduce tension and relax muscles, and still others are great detoxifiers or hormone regulators. You can’t go wrong with a good cup of tea. Some evidence even points to drinking something warm has stress relieving qualities in itself, which is probably why so many people lean toward coffee.
- Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, contain omega-3 fatty acids that can prevent surges in stress hormones and may protect against heart disease and depression. Aim to eat at least 3.5 ounces of fatty fish at least twice a week.
- Garlic is high in sulfur compounds that help increase levels of glutathione. This antioxidant is your body’s first line of defense against stress.
- Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins and heart healthy fat that may help to lessen anxiety.
- Nuts, such as pistachios, walnuts, or almonds, may help lower your cholesterol, ease inflammation in your heart’s arteries, make diabetes less likely, and protect against the effects of stress.
5 Foods that Make Chronic Stress Worse
- Refined sugar is the go to for many under stress. Sugar seems to help in the moment because it suppresses the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis in the brain, which controls your response to stress. So it weakens the body’s ability to respond to stress which actually makes you more reliant on sugar and raises the risk of obesity and its related diseases.
- Caffeine, in “small” amounts may seem to help some with their feelings of stress and anxiety. However, “large” amounts of caffeine can increase cortisol, the stress hormone, levels. The FDA classifies 400 mg a day as a safe amount of caffeine intake. However, keep in mind that people metabolize caffeine at different speeds and have different sensitivities. I, for one, am very sensitive to caffeine and can only have one beverage with caffeine a day before I start feeling bad and that sometimes is too much. It is also worth noting that “decaf” is not the same as “caffeine free.” Below are ranges of caffeine contents in popular beverages:
- 8 ounces decaf coffee contains 3-12 mg
- 8 ounces plain black coffee contains 102-200 mg
- 8 ounces espresso contains 240-720 mg
- 8 ounces of green tea contains 30-50 mg
- 12 ounces of soda contains 37-55 mg
- 12 ounces of energy drinks contain 107-120 mg
- Processed carbs, such as white flour, can cause fluctuating blood sugar levels. Because it is processed, it gets digested quickly and absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, causing rises in blood sugar levels. This releases cortisol into the body, causing stress or making it worse.
- Alcohol seems nice after a stressful day but it can actually make feelings of stress harder to deal with. Alcohol is a chemical depressant. It disrupts the balance of chemicals and processes in your brain, affecting your thoughts, feelings, and actions. You may think a drink can help you relax but regularly drinking to deal with feelings of stress can interfere with what your brain needs for good mental health as well as disrupt your sleep, making stress harder to deal with.
- Processed meats, such as deli meats, hotdogs, sausage, beef jerky, and even bacon, contain preservatives and sodium, additives that may decrease your energy levels and increase your stress.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tracie is a holistic lifestyle and self-care coach that helps moms prioritize their health so they aren’t constantly pouring from an empty cup. You can find her blogging on her website Essential Life Force or in her facebook group, Essentials for Holistic Supermoms, where she posts about health and self-care when she isn’t working her full time job as a registered nurse or spending quality time with her husband and two children.