Dealing With Chronic Stress

Kirsten Schuder
Stressed-out woman

If you have chronic stress, you know that stress creates real physiological responses, which in time can cause long term health consequences and a higher susceptibility to anxiety and depression. However, if you go through measures to decrease your stress, you can reduce the problems chronic stress can cause.

Overview of Strategies

According to the book Principles and Practice of Stress Management, the body's reaction to stress is a real physiological phenomenon. Stress management techniques are effective because after the fight or flight response is initiated, they activate the second phase of the fight or flight response, the relaxation phase.

Encouraging the relaxation phase to occur quickly, or being able to prevent the body's stress response from occurring at all, helps decrease the overall effects of chronic stress and will improve your health outcome.

Exercise

Exercise has been studied extensively for its effects on stress management. Exercise acts as a pressure valve. If the body is often stressed, exercise helps disperse the stress hormones released into the body, initiating the relaxation response.

Hypnosis

Because the physiological stress response begins when a person perceives stress, therapies aimed toward changing this response to stress can be effective. Hypnosis has proven effectiveness in this area.

Hypnosis leads you through a series of visualizations that help you achieve a state of complete relaxation. In this completely relaxed state, suggestions are provided to help you change your responses to different life situations, including events that are stressful.

Hypnosis works because it changes your cognitive processes in the areas of memory, cognizance, acceptance, rationalization, imagination, and focus.

Muscle Relaxation

Even if you are doing something relaxing, such as watching television, it does not mean that you are relaxed. If you suffer from chronic stress, your muscles can still remain in a tensed state even when you are winding down for the day. You have to teach your body how to let go of all that stress from your muscles.

  • According to the University of Michigan, progressive muscle relaxation is effective because when the muscles are intentionally tensed, it produces a biological and neurological response that will seek to return the muscles back to a relaxed state when released.
  • After a lot of practice, you can become proficient at producing a relaxation response in the body.
  • Moreover, doing progressive muscle relaxation will help you learn your body's responses, and you will know for yourself whether or not you are truly relaxed.

Biofeedback

Because stress produces a physiological response on the body, there are devices that can detect whether or not the body is in a state of fight or flight. Biofeedback has been shown to be effective in the management of chronic stress. There are physiological reasons why this method is effective:

  • Biofeedback uses several types of machines, such as skin thermometers or EMG (electromyograms) that measure electrical muscles impulses, to measure the physiological state of the body (rested or stressed).
  • Biofeedback concentrates on helping people learn for themselves when the body is in a state of stress.
  • When you realize you are in a state of stress, you can use relaxation techniques until your body achieves a state of relaxation.
  • A biofeedback machine shows you when you are stressed and when you have achieved the state of relaxation, until you can effectively bring your body back to a state of relaxation on your own.

Deep Breathing/Meditation

Deep breathing and meditation are both shown to reduce levels of chronic stress and produce profound effects on the body and mind.

  • Breathing exercises and meditation are often used together.
  • Deep breathing has been shown to reduce cortisol levels.
  • Meditation decreases the amount of negative thoughts and increases self-awareness and positive outlook.
  • A Stanford University summary of research findings regarding meditation reveal that research findings on the physiological effects of meditation are significant.
    • Meditation produces profound effects in various regions in the brain, including the area in the brain responsible for executive functioning.
    • Meditation induces the relaxation brain waves.
    • Meditation might even be another "form of consciousness," separate from the state of simple relaxation.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Since the body's stress response begins with perceiving a situation as stressful, you can learn ways to change your perception and behavior to effectively mitigate the effects of chronic stress.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) tackles the thought processes and behaviors that are responsible for creating stress. For instance, instead of getting stressed about everyday traffic, you can bring a CD in your car and listen to your favorite music or book on audio.

Mental health practitioners help you change your thought processes, perceptions, and attitudes, as well has help you make lifestyle changes that will help you reduce your chronic stress levels.

Get Help for Chronic Stress

If you have lived with daily stress for a long period of time, you know that it's just a matter of time until your body feels its effects. The earlier you address your chronic stress, the better your chances at conquering your stress are.

Chronic stress is not something that you have to put up with forever, and it's not something that you have to do by yourself. Mental health and medical professionals are trained to help teach you effective techniques, backed by research, that are known to help with stress management. Also, the extra support a professional can provide can keep you motivated to make profound, meaningful life changes.

Dealing With Chronic Stress