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Sleep/Stress

Effects of chronic stress

The body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. When you’re stressed over a busy schedule, an argument with a friend, a traffic jam, or a mountain of bills, your body reacts just as strongly as if you were facing a life-or-death situation. If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response may be “on” most of the time. The more your body’s stress system is activated, the easier it is to trip and the harder it is to shut off.

Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

Many health problems are caused or exacerbated by stress, including:

  • Pain of any kind
  • Heart disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema

The following table lists some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress. The more signs and symptoms you notice in yourself, the closer you may be to stress overload.

Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms
Cognitive Symptoms Emotional Symptoms
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying
  • Moodiness
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness
Physical Symptoms Behavioral Symptoms
  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds
  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

Sleep is one of the most deeply healing and revitalizing experiences known. When we can get enough restful sleep each night, the entire world looks brighter. Insomnia is a lack of healthful, restful sleep and is a common problem experienced by as many as 20% to 30% of American adults at various times in their lives. Statistics report a fifth of American adults and half of American seniors have difficulty falling asleep on any given night (Reiter and Robinson, 1995). The most prevalent sleeping disorder is chronic insomnia, which is experienced by 15% of adults.
Holistic treatment for insomnia is multifaceted and incorporates many techniques including herbal medicine, vitamin and mineral supplements, lifestyle changes, improved sleep hygiene, massage therapy, behavioral therapy, meditation, diet, exercise, hypnosis, acupuncture, relaxation, guided imagery, and homeopathy. A treatment approach is aimed at precluding all the potential causes of insomnia rather than simply providing symptomatic relief.

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