Stress is a common part of everyday life. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you have to hit the brakes in order to avoid hitting them. There’s a looming deadline for a work or school project you’ve been struggling with. You and a friend or family member are clashing and trying to figure out a way to sort out your issues. All of these and more can be stressful, but usually go away when the stressor is resolved or the moment passes.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, doesn’t just go away. That hike of adrenaline sending you into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode persists for weeks to months to years on end. This is very bad for your overall health, and can impact your life in many ways, from your behaviors to even your physical health.
Here’s what you need to know about the impacts of chronic stress and how functional medicine can help you.
What Causes Chronic Stress?
Chronic stress is different from your everyday stress because it is long-term. For many people who struggle with long-term stress, they can’t just eliminate the stressors from their lives, leading to them being stressed out far more often than not.
There are many different potential causes of chronic stress, such as:
- Financial challenges
- Health issues
- Being in an unhealthy/unhappy relationship
- Being in an unhealthy/toxic environment
- Pressure, such as from family and work
- Having a baby
How Does Long-Term Stress Affect You?
The release of cortisol (aka, the “stress hormone”) and adrenaline can be beneficial in a moment of stress. It can help you avoid a car accident or perform better in school or work. When stress doesn’t go away, this extended state of stress can take a turn from helping you to hurting you. Your body isn’t meant to be on high alert all the time!
When your body releases stress hormones, they trigger physical responses, such as a pounding heart or quickening breath. It suppresses non-essential functions, such as your digestive system, immune system, and reproductive system, in order to better prepare you to fight or run in the event of an emergency.
If stress is chronic, though, this can negatively impact your physical health. Some of the physical symptoms of long-term stress include:
- Rapid breathing
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Tense muscles
- Low libido
- Erectile dysfunction
- Missed periods
- Fertility issues
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Weakened immune system
- Aches and pains
Since stress affects your immune system, you may find yourself getting sick more frequently if you are chronically stressed.
When you’re stressed, your brain is focused more on the stressor than anything else, even if you may not be consciously thinking about it at the moment. Being stressed for a long period of time can impact your cognitive function, such as by:
- Inability to focus
- Constant worrying
- Racing thoughts
- Only being able to see the negative side of things
- Poor judgment
While stress in the short term can boost your productivity and focus, in the long term, it has the opposite effect. This can cause you to be unproductive at work or school.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health – and given that chronic stress can so negatively affect your entire body, it’s not hard to see why! People who suffer from chronic stress can experience other mental symptoms such as:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Emotional withdrawal
- Avoiding others
- Decreased self-esteem
- Trouble relaxing
Chronic stress can worsen existing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. It can also affect how you eat, which can lead to disordered eating as you struggle to find control in whatever way you can.
You know how when you’re stressed about your relationship or your finances, it makes it difficult to focus on anything else? You may spend time avoiding your significant other or cut back on spending wherever you can.
Chronic stress affects your behavior in many ways – not all good or helpful.
- Eating too much or too little
- Avoiding others
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Nervous behaviors, such as nail-biting
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or smoking
In the long term, chronic stress can affect every aspect of your life. It can alter relationships, affect your work performance, and make it difficult to find enjoyment in your hobbies.
How Can Functional Medicine Help?
Chronic stress can majorly affect your whole body and life. While you may not be able to eliminate the stressors that have caused your chronic stress, you can find help. Therapy and medication can both help you manage your stress. So too can functional medicine.
Functional medicine looks at the root causes of your symptoms. Lifestyle factors, such as food sensitivities and hormone imbalances can contribute to your overall stress levels. If you’ve been struggling with your digestion or you have tense muscles all the time, a functional medicine provider will be able to look at your specific case and symptoms in order to develop a personalized treatment plan.
Massage therapy can help you to relax tightened muscles, and releases feel-good hormones, such as oxytocin, which can improve your mood and help you better manage your stress. If you have gained or lost weight due to stress, a functional medicine provider can look at your overall diet and provide you with tips to improve your nutrition to help you achieve the results you want.
Exercise, movement, and sleep are all important to help your body manage stress. If you aren’t sure where to start, a functional medicine provider can advise you on lifestyle changes that you can make to combat stress.
All of these, combined with meditation, therapy, people to talk to, and medication if needed, can help you to manage the symptoms of chronic stress and live a happier, healthier life.
Functional Medicine In Salt Lake City
Life Health Medical Center is here for you. We provide functional medicine treatments from therapeutic injections to massage therapy to chiropractic services and more. If you could benefit from functional medicine, please do not hesitate to contact us today to schedule an appointment.