It’s no secret that long term chronic stress is bad for us. Our bodies are designed to respond to short term stressful situations with a ‘fight or flight’ response governed by the sympathetic nervous system. When the stressful situation is over, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and promotes the ‘rest and digest’ response that calms the body down. These days, many of us are living with chronic stress brought on by difficult work or family situations, or just the heady pace of everyday life. Chronic stress keeps the fight or flight response activated, and prevents the parasympathetic nervous system from calming the body down.
In an article published by Harvard Medical School, the physical and mental health issues caused by chronic stress are highlighted. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).
Fortunately, says the article, there are ways to help combat long term chronic stress. Movement therapies such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong promote deep breathing and mental focus, and create a state of calm in our mind and body.