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The Effects of Long-Term Stress

by Dalite Sancic, DACM, L.Ac., MS

April 24, 2024





Chronic stress is a prolonged state of psychological and physiological tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Unlike acute stress, which is short-term and typically triggered by immediate threats, chronic stress persists over an extended period and can have detrimental effects on human health. The continuous activation of the body's stress response can lead to a range of physical and emotional health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and weakened immune function. Furthermore, chronic stress can negatively impact cognitive function, sleep patterns, and overall quality of life. It is essential to recognize the signs of chronic stress and take proactive measures to manage and reduce its impact to maintain long-term well-being.


Chronic long-term stress can lead to a dysregulated nervous system, which can significantly impact overall health. A dysregulated nervous system refers to an imbalance or dysfunction in the functioning of the nervous system. This can manifest in various ways, such as increased sensitivity to stress, difficulty regulating emotions, disrupted sleep patterns, and altered pain perception. It can result from chronic stress, trauma, or other factors that affect the body's ability to maintain a balanced and healthy nervous system function.


When the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated due to stress or other arousal causes, it triggers a release of hormones and neurotransmitters throughout the brain, influencing our thoughts, decisions, and behavior. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals across a chemical synapse, such as a neuromuscular junction, from one nerve cell to another "target" nerve cell, muscle cell, or gland cell. Some common neurotransmitters include dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. The up-and-down regulation is how the nervous system maintains a functional relationship with the cells of the body. When our nervous system is not functioning properly, it will impact physical functions such as heartbeat and blood pressure, breathing, muscle movements, thoughts, memory, learning and feeling, sleep, healing, aging, hormone regulation, digestion, and sense of hunger. Chronic long-term stress can lead to a dysregulated nervous system, which can significantly impact overall health. A dysregulated nervous system refers to an imbalance or dysfunction in the functioning of the nervous system. This can manifest in various ways, such as increased sensitivity to stress, difficulty regulating emotions, disrupted sleep patterns, and altered pain perception. It can result from chronic stress, trauma, or other factors that affect the body's ability to maintain a balanced and healthy nervous system function.



Evidence-Based Natural Ways to Improve Chronic Long-Term Stress:


  1. Physical Activity - Regular exercise, such as aerobic activities or yoga, can help reduce stress hormone levels and improve overall well-being.  

  2. Mindfulness Meditation - Practicing mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as improve emotional regulation.  

  3. Herbal Supplements - Certain herbal supplements, such as ashwagandha and rhodiola rosea, have demonstrated stress-reducing properties in clinical studies.  

  4. Social Support - Building and maintaining strong social connections can provide a buffer against the effects of chronic stress and contribute to better mental health.  

  5. Aromatherapy - Certain scents, such as lavender and chamomile, have been found to have calming effects and can help alleviate stress when used in aromatherapy.  

  6. Balanced Diet - Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while minimizing processed foods and excessive caffeine, can support overall health and stress management.  

  7. Full-body red light therapy is a natural and non-invasive way to reduce anxiety and improve your mood and well-being. 

  8. Adequate Sleep - Prioritizing good sleep hygiene and ensuring adequate sleep can help regulate stress hormones and improve resilience to stress. 

  9. Radically unplugging from the news and social media can shift how our body internalizes stress that isn’t ours. Making a conscious choice to take a break can help to rewire it.  

  10. Several studies have indicated that acupuncture is effective in treating chronic stress. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Endocrinology observed that acupuncture can reduce stress hormone levels and modify the body's response to stress. Another study from Georgetown University Medical Center in 2016 found that acupuncture significantly reduced stress and anxiety levels in patients. Furthermore, a review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2018 analyzed multiple studies and confirmed that acupuncture can be a valuable treatment for chronic stress, leading to improvements in both psychological and physical symptoms. These findings collectively suggest that acupuncture is an effective therapy for managing chronic stress.


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