Stress is your body's way of responding to any kind of demand or threat — also known as 'fight or flight' or stress response. When it works properly, it can help you stay focused and alert in emergencies, but beyond a certain point, it can damage your health, mood, productivity, relationships and quality of life.

A healthy fight or flight response occurs when you feel threatened. The nervous system will release a flood of stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, that rouse your body into action. This will make your heart pound faster, your muscles tighten, your breath quicken and your senses sharpen.

The nervous system has a hard time distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. In fact, your body can react just as strongly to an emotional stress as it does to a physical threat. The more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, and the harder it is to shut off.

Repeated exposure to situations that provoke the release of stress hormones can lead to chronic stress, where the body is forced to exist in a heightened state of stress. This can lead to serious health problems and disrupts nearly every system in the body, including the immune, digestive and reproductive systems. It can also increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, speeds up the aging process and can actually rewire the brain to make you more susceptible anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Signs of chronic stress or stress overload can range from memory problems, inability to concentrate, agitation, depression, physical aches and pains, nausea and dizziness, frequent colds, weight loss, feeling overtired and even the development of addictions to help cope with any of the symptoms listed above.

Here are some tactics you can use to combat stress:

  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can help reduce levels of stress. Since these substances are either stimulants or depressants, they can increase your levels of stress hormones rather than reduce them.
  • Exercising regularly is another great way to combat stress. Exercise can metabolize stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, restoring the body and mind to a calmer more relaxed state.
  • Create a calming bedtime routine that involves going to bed at the same time each night. Try meditation and transforming your bedroom into a relaxing oasis.
  • Another tactic that can help combat stress is known as a 'stress diary.' A stress diary is a place to track the date, time and place of every stressful episode. Be sure to rate each episode on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stressful. Over time, you may see patterns that can help you identify the triggers of your stress and even the solutions that work best for you.
  • If you’re still trying to cope with the symptoms of stress, try talking to someone you trust. Stress can cloud your judgement and prevent you from seeing things clearly. Talking through your stress symptoms and triggers with a friend, family member or mental health care professional can help you put your problems into perspective and find effective solutions.

If you’ve tried some or all of these tactics and are still finding that chronic stress is negatively impacting your mental and physical health, please consult a health care professional. Everyone deserves to live a happy, well-rounded life and there is no shame in asking for the help you need.