Facts about stress

  • Stress is something that affects all of us in some form, but it is how we cope with the stressors in our life that makes the difference for our health.
  • To respond to a stressor, our bodies release “fight or flight” hormones, which can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and can tense your muscles. During a stressful situation, your brain activity, digestion and hearing decrease.

Complications of long-term stress

  • Mental health concerns: Over time, high stress levels increase our risk of developing anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Long-term exposure to stress can also lead to memory and concentration impairments.
  • Cardiovascular disease: High levels of stress often leads to long-term high blood pressure, which can damage the blood vessels in your heart and in the rest of your body. When the blood vessels are damaged, blood pressure becomes harder to manager, and the risk of developing plaque in the arteries increases. When plaque develops in the arteries, it can reduce blood flow to the heart and other major organs. Stress has also been linked to certain types of heart failure, a condition wherein the heart muscle is weakened. For more information on heart failure, visit our Understanding Heart Failure section.
  • Digestive problems: Long-term exposure to stress can impair our digestive or gut health and has been linked to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, nausea and diarrhea.
  • Weakened immune system: When we are stressed, the body’s immune system, which is important to fight off infections and disease, is reduced. This increases our risk of getting sick and makes it more difficult to recover if we do become ill.
  • Weight and waist circumference:  Many people who experience long-term stress are unable to exercise regularly, either due to a lack of time, lack of motivation, or both. To make matters worse, stress hormones that are released when our body experiences stress change our internal hunger cues. Stress can cause our body to crave high-calorie foods, such as that butter chicken dish, potato chips or ice cream, but can also cause you to completely lose your appetite for long periods of time. These long-term changes to exercise and eating habits can lead to unhealthy changes to body weight and waist circumference.
  • Sleep disorders: Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand. Stress can affect our sleep quality, and poor sleep can impact how we cope with the stressors in our life. For more information on sleep, visit our section on Sleep & Your Health.

Improving your stress levels

  • Regular physical activity and exercise: Aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise each week and resistance training a minimum of twice per week.
  • Talk about it: Talk to a friend, family member, or trained professional to help you find solutions to your stress.
  • Relaxation technique: Some people find yoga class, meditation or deep breathing helpful to control their stress. Try a moment of relaxation.
  • Keep a diary: Write down moments where you felt stressed and how it affected you.
  • Engage in social activities, hobbies or recreational activities: Regularly setting time aside to participate in activities that you enjoy and distract you from stressful situations can help you cope more effectively with the stressors in your life.
  • Get more sleep: Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. For more information on sleep, and strategies to improve your sleep hygiene, visit our section on Sleep & Your Health.

Mental health resources relating to COVID-19

Want more information?

  • Speak to your Exercise Therapist.
  • Speak to your family doctor or specialist.
  • Look for activities and programs offered by your local community centre, such as mindful meditation, yoga, guitar classes, or other recreational or social activities you may enjoy.