Tips for overcoming chronic stress as we get older
Have you ever wondered how stress can affect your body?
Among many other health complications, a recent study* showed living with chronic stress can increase your risk of a stroke by FOUR times.
Chronic stress is when we are living in a state of constant stress for a long period of time – think months and years. Our lives are so busy and on the go these days, we may not even realise we are living in a stressful state.
When we are stressed, our body releases specific chemicals into our body to help us cope:
- Cortisol – helps to keep our blood pressure elevated and gives us fuel to burn by retaining water, sodium and sugar
- Epinephrine – increases our heart rate and blood pressure to pump blood to the vital organs to help us fight off threats.
Don’t get me wrong – these chemicals are crucial in helping us fight stress. However, over a long period of time they aren’t so great. We know that having high blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase our risk of both hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke.
So, how do you know if you are chronically stressed?
Chronic stress can produce many symptoms, which can be different for each individual. All can mimic other conditions, including stroke itself, so it is important to seek medical attention should you experience any or all of these symptoms.
Symptoms can include:
- Low energy
- Muscle tension, numbness or weakness
- Chest pains
- Stomach issues – constipation, diarrhoea, vomiting
- Shaking or cold sweats
- Poor concentration and frustration
But enough of the doom and gloom. The good news? We can implement actions in our daily lives to help us reduce our stress levels. How, you may ask?
- EXERCISE – Physical activity three or four times a week for at least 40 minutes reduces blood pressure and releases chemicals called endorphins, which boost mood and reduce cortisol levels. This in turn can reduce stress levels, making exercise a solution that benefits both your mind and body.
- DIET – Aim to limit anxiety-inducing foods such as caffeine, artificial sugars and alcohol. Try to eat foods that are rich in potassium such as bananas, avocado and sweet potato to help reduce sodium. A nutrient-rich, varied diet is important for stress management.
- MINDFULNESS – Becoming more mindful makes it harder for stressful thoughts to enter our mind. Practising mindfulness daily or making mindfulness a part of your routine is an excellent way to manage stress
- COUNSELLING – Seeking professional advice can help us to cope and manage stress levels. Learning effective strategies to deal with stress and using them can be a great solution, especially when you are chronically stressed and feel you are unable to effectively manage it.
How amazing is that? Each of these avenues for stress relief is something we can and should be doing for ourselves every day. As physiotherapists, we specialise in exercise-based therapy. If you think you can benefit from this, give us a call on 1300 797 793 today and let our team help you.
* Study published in 2012 by Egido et al.
Article written by Madeline Low – Physiotherapist, Team SA