Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives, but what happens when stress sticks around for weeks or maybe even months? Long-term stress, or chronic stress, is a constant state of feeling overwhelmed or pressured over a prolonged period of time. This condition can be problematic because chronic stress can cause serious health concerns over time.

Several things can contribute to chronic stress, and the causes can be different for everyone. Some examples of life experiences that can contribute to chronic stress include divorce, abusive relationships, living in poverty and job-related stress such as a heavy workload or job loss.

According to the American Psychological Association, long-term stress has been linked to an increased risk for a variety of physical and mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, muscle tension and pain, heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment. Chronic stress can also suppress the body’s immune response making it harder to fight off illnesses.

While there is no medication that can reduce stress, taking active steps to reduce your stress levels can help protect your long-term health and make you feel better in the short term.

  • Get active. Exercise can reduce stress hormones like cortisol and can boost endorphins that can help increase mood.
  • Set limits. Personal boundaries can help to set clear guidelines and realistic expectations for what we find acceptable and unacceptable. Some of the most common boundaries include physical boundaries, emotional boundaries and time-related boundaries.
  • Utilize your support system. Emotional support from a close friend or family member can provide support when times are tough or when life is overwhelming. Allowing someone in your support system to be a listening ear or to lend a hand in times of stress can increase overall well-being for both of you.
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness. Stress triggers a fight-or-flight response from both the mind and the body. Practicing meditation and mindfulness can lead to a less intense stress response by allowing the mind and body to relax. Breathing exercises can also contribute to a sense of calm.
  • Seek help from a professional. A behavioral health professional can help you navigate through chronic stress, learn how to set boundaries and develop coping mechanisms to reduce feelings of stress.

Increasing the amount of self-care and self-coping mechanisms can help to decrease stress levels. Seeking professional help is a great option if you are unsure where to start or are overwhelmed by the feelings associated with chronic stress. You don’t have to wait until the stress is unmanageable. There is never a bad time to seek counseling.