How to Reverse the Effects of Chronic Stress

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Acute stress, which is short term and the most common form of stress, can be motivating and some even find it exciting when experienced in low doses. Chronic stress, however, provides zero positive advantages. On the contrary, it can wreak havoc on your body and mind.

Fortunately, you don’t have to fall victim to the effects of chronic stress, regardless of how long you’ve lived with them. Its symptoms can not only be managed but also reversed.  

According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress occurs when you feel trapped by stress over extended periods of time, when there seems to be no solution in sight. Unlike acute stress, which you can quickly identify, chronic stress often goes undetected as you become accustomed to its familiarity, no matter how unpleasant it may be. Over time, it begins to wear you down, both physically and mentally.

Symptoms of stress include (but are not limited to):

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain
  • Tense, aching muscles
  • Emotional distress such as anxiety, irritability, and depression
  • Feeling overwhelmed and out of control
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Changes in appetite

When experienced in the short term, these symptoms do little to affect your long-term health. As uncomfortable as they may be in the present, they will eventually pass if experienced only temporarily. It becomes a problem when you experience a variation of symptoms over an extended period of time. Prolonged stress damages your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness, infection, and a host of serious health problems such as heart disease and some kinds of cancer.  

A common misconception is stress must be avoided altogether before its damaging effects occur. But when you try to fight it or flee from it, you only intensify it. The truth is, stress is a part of life. The best thing you can do for your health and well-being is to develop a healthy relationship with stress, which starts with learning how to manage it.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn how to learn how to manage stress and help reverse its negative impact. Below are a few ways to undo the damaging effects of stress that you can put into practice right now:

1. Try Aerobic Exercise

It’s no surprise that exercise is a great stress reducer, but recent findings reveal that aerobic exercise in particular can actually reverse its effects. Poor blood-vessel health is often a symptom of chronic stress, raising the risk of cardiovascular disease. According to research conducted at West Virginia University in 2016, stressed rats that performed aerobic exercise were able to maintain normal blood vessels compared to the blood vessels of stressed rats that did not exercise.

Given the importance of heart health and the negative impact stress can have on it, aerobic exercise could be a vital addition to your daily routine, particularly if you have experienced long-term stressors. The Mayo Clinic recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking or swimming.

2. Practice Yoga and Meditation

A 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology found that mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as yoga, meditation, and Tai-Chi, can actually produce molecular changes in DNA. According to the study, those who practice these activities may be able to reduce the risk of inflammation  and inflammation-related diseases when under stress. In other words, according to the study’s authors, MBIs reverse the negative effects of stress by literally changing your biology.

3. Seek Help from a Professional

Because chronic stress can be difficult to identify, talking things out with a mental health care professional could make it easier to pinpoint where the stress is stemming from and how to better manage it. Additionally, journaling consistently, particularly first thing in the morning, is a great way to observe one’s thoughts, including those that have become so habitual.

Seeking out a doctor who practices integrative medicine, or medicine that takes into account the whole person, including lifestyle choices, can also be helpful in reversing the impact of stress. Since stress can damage the body, depleting it of vital vitamins and nutrients, it can be helpful to have tests performed that identify what it may be lacking. Rebuilding the immune system can also help to better combat stress.

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4. Strengthen Your Support System

Emotional support can serve as a protective shield against the damaging effects of stress. According to the American Psychological Association, a strong social support system can actually enhance your ability to handle stressors on your own by increasing self-esteem and confidence.

And it’s not just the amount of people in your life that matters; it’s the quality of the friends, family members, and other people in your support system. Make sure you’re leaning on the supportive, understanding relationships in your life to increase feelings of connectedness, self-worth, and security, as opposed to the toxic, depleting relationships.

Social networks take a variety of forms, such as having a phone conversation with a close family member, volunteering with an organization, or meeting a friend for coffee. The feeling of belongingness that arises when you connect with others can make stressful situations seem more manageable.

Life can be full of stress; at some times more than others. Pay attention to when the stress extends for longer periods of time and make sure you’re armed with coping tactics so you can manage it in a healthy way.


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About the Author
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Emily Holland

Certified Health Coach
Emily is a certified Health Coach and freelance writer with a focus on psychology, mental health, and optimal living. A combined interest in healthy living and human behavior led Emily to pursue a certification in health coaching at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as well as a master’s degree in General Psychology. Her personal struggle with anxiety motivated her to research and implement a variety of holistic approaches into her lifestyle, such as changes in diet and the adoption of mindfulness meditation. She credits these lifestyle changes as well as many others with helping her better manage symptoms of anxiety and everyday stressors. She is most passionate about sharing what she has...Read more