The Effects of Chronic Stress

Almost everyone experiences a certain amount of stress during various periods in their life. In fact, it’s not even realistic to think that life will not present challenges at one time or another. However, the effects of chronic stress over years or perhaps even decades can have serious negative effects on a person’s overall health. While many people think stress can only occur from a job or a busy family life that consumes all their time and energy, there are actually other types of stress that can present challenges as well.

A Variety of Stressors

The human body requires clean water, good nutrition, clean air to breathe, physical movement, and an adequate amount of sleep in order to operate at an optimal level. A body can experience stress when any one of these important factors is compromised. For example, while there has been a significant amount of effort to clean up the environment in order to improve air quality, there are still pockets of the population that are regularly exposed to chemical stressors. Some factory workers, those in the construction trades, pest exterminators, even nail salon employees are often routinely exposed to unhealthy chemicals.

Poor nutritional habits can lead to vitamin deficiencies and obesity, the latter of which can cause great stress on many of the joints in the body. Some people experience thermal stress, typically from working at a job that requires them to work outside in extreme temperatures. Some people, such as airline personnel and those who work with computers a lot, report health problems that likely stem from electromagnetic stress. Over time, anyone with a very stressful job will likely eventually experience a variety of negative changes in their health. Lastly, people who are trying to raise a family, go to college, work, and/or take care of aging parents often miss out on physical activity and consistent levels of good sleep. These people, as they “burn the candle at both ends” may experience mental/psychological symptoms of stress such as impatience, frustration, forgetfulness, and perhaps even bouts of anger.

Effects of Chronic Stress on the Human Body

While short-term stress is typically well-managed by the body of a healthy person, chronic stress is a different story. The potential effects of chronic stress on the body consist of quite a lengthy list of health issues. Dehydration, poor nutritional habits, chronic chemical exposure, and/or a lack of sleep is hard on every system of the body. Chronic stress can lead to headaches, sleeping issues, muscle tightness, spastic colon (IBS), TMJ from chronic muscle tension in the jaw, short-temperedness, forgetfulness, heart palpitations, muscle knots, and much more. If all of this sounds discouraging, take heart. Often all it takes is some awareness and some consistency to counteract the effects of stress.

Make Health a Priority

If you have multiple stressors in your life, don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you have to change your entire lifestyle in a week. Pick one stressor and make it a goal to reduce or eliminate it. Pack your lunch instead of visiting a fast-food restaurant at lunchtime. Drink water with a splash of lemon or lime juice instead of a sugar-laden soft drink. If you think you don’t have time for exercise, turn on some music and dance for 10 minutes in your home. You will likely feel refreshed and invigorated as your blood begins to flow. Once you experience that you do feel better after a bit of exercise, it can help inspire you to find more ways to incorporate heart-pumping exercise into your life. If you have trouble sleeping, buy a machine that mimics the sound of ocean waves or rainfall, and let it lull you to sleep. Charge your smartphone battery overnight in the kitchen, rather than in your bedroom. Make it a monthly commitment to try at least one stress-reducing activity such as a professional massage or a yoga session, then incorporate the activities that work best for you.

Physical Therapy Can Help

For those who feel they can’t avoid certain stressors (often those associated with a job), in the short-term try to avoid similar activities when on your own time. In other words, if you must sit all day at work, make a real effort when you are on your own time, to go for a walk or engage in some other type of physical activity. Schedule a session or two with a professional physical therapist who can demonstrate effective stretches and strengthening techniques to help remove chronic muscle tension. If you must inhale chemicals while at work, use natural cleaners, fragrance-free laundry products, etc. while at home. As part of a long-term plan, consider the long-term risks associated with the stressors you experience at work and have a career plan that will allow you to eventually move into another type of job.

If you would like more help in learning how to manage stress and how to make good health a priority in your life, please contact us at 570-208-2787 or email us at

Written by Dr. Heather Marsico DPT