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Recognizing and Managing the Physical and Mental Symptoms of Chronic Stress

Updated: May 2

You may be wondering if what you are feeling lately are the physical and mental side effects of chronic stress.  Let’s review the symptoms or side effects and tools to add to your stress management toolkit to help you.


Chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body, both mentally and physically. Some of the most common symptoms of chronic or extreme stress can lead to long-term ailments. Recognizing and educating yourself on ways to manage chronic stress can help you conquer symptoms before they lead to more significant health risks.


Stressed Woman

some of the common early symptoms of stress are:


  • Headaches

  • Fatigue (low energy)

  • Muscle pain, tension, and aches

  • Insomnia (sleep disruption)

  • Upset stomach (nausea, constipation, diarrhea, pain)

  • Irritability (impatient, frustration, anger, feeling wound up)

  • Feelings of fear, worry, anxiousness, or overwhelm

  • Racing thoughts (as though you can’t stop thinking)

  • Low sex drive

  • Slow metabolism (weight gain)

Chronic or extreme stress can also lead to symptoms such as:


  • Anxiety Attacks

  • Panic Attacks

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Chest pain

  • High blood pressure

  • Frequent illness (colds, infections)

  • Depression

Believe it or not, there are still more physiological effects, but let’s stop there.


What can you do now


So now that you have checked off some, hopefully not all, of the items on the list, what can you do to calm your mind and body and relieve the stress symptoms?


It starts by shutting off your sympathetic nervous system response and activating your para-sympathetic nervous system response.  


What is the Sympathetic Nervous System?


Some of you may be thinking, ok, but what is the sympathetic nervous system?


The sympathetic nervous system triggers our flight-flight-or-freeze response, more commonly known as only flight-or-flight. This is your body’s physiological response to perceived threats (real or imagined) to protect yourself from harm.


During fight-or-flight, the sympathetic nervous system triggers stress response by releasing adrenaline and cortisol into the blood to prepare your body for physical activity.

The need for a protection response is essential to survival but comes with a cost.  As mentioned, flight-or-flight is a response to a perceived threat, real or imagined. Your body and sympathetic nervous system cannot distinguish between real or imaginary threats, such as “what if” worries and fears.  Your body will have the same automatic physiological response when you worry about finances, a busy schedule, or being late for an appointment as it would encountering a bear in the wild.  Some of you may scoff, but your mind will realize the difference only after the sympathetic nervous system has already been activated.

When chronic or extreme stress occurs, the side effects previously listed start to become an issue. This is why it is important to acknowledge the symptoms and establish calming practices to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help keep your mental and physical health at its best.  


But What is the Parasympathetic nervous System?


The parasympathetic nervous system, or the rest-and-digest system, is responsible for physiological functions (sexual arousal, salivation, digestion, and waste elimination) and the production of our happy hormones: serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine.

So, what are some ways to activate the rest-and-digest or parasympathetic nervous system? The quickest but not always possible solution is to eliminate the cause of stress, but when the stressor is a circumstance that is a part of everyday life with no quick resolution, prioritizing self-care and creating a stress management toolkit is a must.   

There are tools to incorporate into an everyday routine, some of which are also fantastic during stressful moments when the fight-or-flight is actively triggered.


"When mind, body, and spirit are in harmony happiness is the natural result" ~ Deepak Chopra ~


Here are some suggestions for immediately addressing symptoms of Stress:


  • Breathing exercises (read more)

  • Calming Imagery

  • Mindful practices (guided meditation, visualization meditation, body scan, etc.) (read more)

  • Essential Oils (read more)

  • Movement (yoga (read more), walking, bike ride, gardening (read more), etc)

  • Minimize or eliminate alcohol

  • Minimize or eliminate caffeine

  • Eliminate other substances, such as nicotine    


Once your body has begun to return to a calmer state, it is important to


  • Consult your physician if needed

  • Address and remove or decrease stressors (if you are able)

  • Get high-quality sleep

  • Maintain a healthy diet (read more)

  • Begin a supplement regimen such as B-complex vitamins and Co Q10, but consult your physician or pharmacist, especially when undergoing other health treatments.

  • Disengage from high-adrenaline-producing activities

Another great way to help calm the nervous system is to take up some soothing hobbies like:


  • Coloring

  • Puzzles

  • Baking

  • Gardening

  • Journaling


Conclusion


Remember, the key to improving well-being is managing stress symptoms when stressors can’t be entirely removed, deactivating your fight-or-flight response, and activating your rest-and-digest response.


Always make time and prioritize self-care by taking breaks for breathwork, movement, and mindful exercises. Remove the negative and focus on positive thoughts. Sleep and eat well, and you’re your supplements. Try to have some fun by incorporating a hobby or two into your routine.  All these tools can help lower stress levels. Remember, stress management and improving well-being can be calming, creative, entertaining, and relaxing!


Wishing you the best on your wellness journey!

 

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