Chronic Stress and What We Can Do About It

What Can We Do About Chronic Stress?

I watched a documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the plane to Northern CA on my way to an outdoor/wellness/life design retreat/festival las weekend. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to go to this event because I am hopeful it will help me get clarity around some life goals and crafting the life I want to live.

But I digress…the documentary, One Nation Under Stress, details the struggles many Americans are facing today related to chronic stress and the epidemic of “deaths of despair.” Deaths of despair are classified as: cirrhosis of the liver (related to alcohol use), drug overdose, and suicide. Prime causes of these types of death in the U.S. are: social isolation, the depersonalization of society, and the increased stress and pressure middle-class Americans are feeling to just make a living.

Let’s talk about different types of stress. Acute stress, as a result of an adverse event, is not the problem – it’s the chronic, constant, toxic stress that kills. This type of chronic stress results from:

  • lack of predictability, uncertainty, lack of control
  • lack of social support
  • wondering – “Am I valued?” “Do I have a meaningful place in community?” “Do I have a community to rely on?” and “Why am I here?”

Chronic stress changes the brain and impacts the ability to make rational decisions related to thought regulation, action, empathy, and impulse and craving control – making it more difficult to deal with more and more stress. These stress biomarkers affect health outcomes. Some ways we can combat this change in the brain are through mindfulness/meditation and exercise. Try spending time in nature, the box breathing method, or taking a walk outside. These simple actions practiced over time can bring some of your brain chemistry back to where it was before the chronic stress altered it.

Stress Reduction Challenge:

  • Find your community, your tribe – people who support you and know your value, people who allow you to feel your place in the world
  • Reach out to someone who seems isolated – this will most likely be good for both of you! If you feel isolated, don’t perpetuate that – reach out even though it’s hard – don’t let the hurt and isolation turn to despair
  • Cultivate quality social relationships – with your significant other, family, friends, co-workers – strangers who might become a new friend. Having quality social relationships is one of the greatest predictors of health, happiness and longevity.
  • Re-evaluate how you’re spending your time and money – do they reinforce your values and bring you meaning?
  • Focus on what you DO have, not what you don’t – cultivate an abundance mindset and you will long less and less for what you don’t have, and appreciate more and more what you do have. And remember that wealth doesn’t necessarily equal health.
  • Look for opportunities to cultivate compassion and empathy – radiate loving kindness near and far.

Photo credits: Noah Bradow

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