By Dr. Jeffrey Gladden

It’s no secret that stress is destructive to our physical and psychological health. Stress weakens the immune system, accelerates the aging process, and increases the risk of disease. Many of my patients have acclimated to high-stress levels. They’re used to feeling anxious, depressed, or exhausted. Often, they don’t realize the damage they’re doing to their health.

If you want to optimize your health, you need to examine the role that stress plays in your life. Managing stress levels isn’t always easy, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Overcoming psychological roadblocks lets you take charge of your wellbeing. You become the best possible version of yourself.

Once my patients change their mindsets, they’re astonished to discover what they’re capable of. It all starts by digging deep into your own psyche and managing negative emotions. Read on to learn more.

The Long-Term Consequences of Stress

Several studies have also shown that long-term stress triggers inflammatory markers. Over time, inflammation boosts blood pressure and increases cholesterol. It can also disrupt your blood sugar. These effects of stress increase your risk of chronic disease.

My patients who suffer from high levels of stress often slip into unhealthy lifestyles, too. If you’re feeling stressed, it can be tempting to turn to unhealthy foods or alcohol. Worst of all, stress accelerates the aging process. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol speed up aging at the cellular level. Stress is a true enemy of longevity. I urge my patients to take steps to control their stress before it can wreak havoc on their health.

Stress and Chronic Disease

Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to manage your stress. Patients with chronic diseases are at a high risk of stress-related illnesses. Chronic disease can trigger pain and insomnia. Often, these symptoms lead to a cascading mental health crisis.

People with chronic disease can become depressed, anxious, and stressed out. Many of my patients who struggle with chronic disease have resigned themselves to living their lives as a “sick person.” This form of “illness identity” creates mental roadblocks that hinder recovery. It can compound stress levels and cause further damage to your health.

I have a deep understanding of the role that stress plays in chronic disease. A decade ago, I struggled with subclinical hypothyroidism. This condition left me exhausted, anxious, and depressed. I took charge of my health by altering my diet and balancing my hormones. Today, I enjoy high energy levels and an active lifestyle. My stress levels have plummeted, and I’ve regained my passion for life.

In my practice, I work with patients to regain control of their health. I’m proud to help my patients overcome similar mental roadblocks. Stress management and a positive attitude are the keys to well-being. A few simple lifestyle changes can deliver long-lasting results.

What can I do to fight back against stress?

Stress is one of the more manageable health risks; unfortunately, it often goes unnoticed. Many people spend their time trying out exciting new diet or exercise programs. They look for quick fixes and new trends rather than investing in long-term strategies. But if you want to optimize your health, take some time to look at the bigger picture. Consider the following stress-management tips:

Track your stress levels

Your heart rate is largely controlled by your automatic nervous system (ANS). This part of your brain also controls your breathing, blood pressure, and digestion. These functions generally run on autopilot. But negative stimuli like chronic stress can kick your ANS into overdrive. Heart rate variability (HRV) helps reveal disturbances within your ANS.

HRV measures the intervals between each heartbeat. High HRV is usually a great sign — it shows that your body is resilient and responds well to changing stimuli. A low HRV might suggest a chronic issue like anxiety or chronic stress. People with a low HRV are at a higher risk of heart disease and early death.

Wearable devices and electrocardiograms help determine your HRV. If your HRV is low, it’s time to take action. Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of adverse health outcomes.

Try meditating

Meditation is the gold standard for stress management. I’m a big believer in the benefits of meditation. In my practice, I’ve seen many patients revolutionize their well-being through mindfulness practices. Meditation helps patients put stressful stimuli into the proper perspective. It allows you to get in touch with your body and recognize your ability to self-heal.

Explore biofeedback

Biofeedback strengthens the link between your body and mind. With the right training, patients gain greater control over their heart rate and blood pressure. Biofeedback is highly successful in treating chronic stress, headaches, and anxiety.

Listen to mellow music

Music is a simple, effective way to alter your mental state. Fast-paced music can make you feel excited and alert. I find that personally, slower music helps relax my muscles and soothes an overactive mind. If you struggle with stress and anxiety, music may calm you down.

Get your heart pumping

Exercise offers countless health benefits, including stress reduction. Regular exercise helps lower your heart rate and blood pressure. It also helps you be present in the moment and gain a new perspective. Exercise may be as effective in treating anxiety and stress as prescription medication.

Cut out alcohol and tobacco

When my patients feel stressed, they often indulge in an extra glass of wine or a few cigarettes. They’re not alone: During the global pandemic, alcohol consumption has skyrocketed. But alcohol consumption increases anxiety and depression over time. The same holds true for tobacco. The short-term stress relief comes at a steep cost, as both substances increase your risk of long-term health problems.

I encourage patients struggling with chronic stress to eliminate these substances from their lives. Cutting out alcohol and tobacco helps decrease cortisol levels, improves sleep quality, and boosts athletic endurance.

Remember: Optimizing your health is a marathon, not a spring. Achieving your wellness goals takes time. But with dedication, you can enjoy a happier, healthier, and longer life.