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Life is full of stressful situations, most of which come on quickly and resolve themselves just as fast. But if you're feeling trapped by stressors over an extended period of time, you may be experiencing chronic stress, which can wear you down both mentally and physically. The key to handling chronic stress is retraining your brain to more effectively deal with burdensome anxiety and decrease its ill effects.

"Short bursts of stress can be exciting and even give us performance advantages," said Dr. Ohan Karatoprak, director of family medicine at Holy Name. "But prolonged stress damages the immune system and makes us susceptible to illness, infection, and chronic health problems."

These five tips can help you reduce chronic stress:

  1. Exercise. Movement, especially aerobic exercise, has been shown to fight chronic stress. In addition, exercise leads to the production of new brain cells and improves mood, cognitive abilities and physical health.
  2. Connect while disconnecting. Connect with family, friends, and neighbors. When you are under stress, relaxing and interacting with people you know, trust and laugh with, will distract you and reduce feelings of stress. But try to take time off the technology grid to manage stress and stay in the moment.
  3. Say no. The harder it is for you to say no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, or depression. Saying no to a new commitment allows you to successfully honor your existing commitments.
  4. Practice mindfulness. Take notice of the world around you and spend time in the moment. This research-supported method is an effective way to control negative thoughts and behaviors and reduces stress by allowing you to minimize the feeling of not being in control.
  5. Seek help. Talking things out with a mental health professional could help you to identify sources of your chronic stress and how to better manage it.

While these methods seem simple, they may be difficult to implement at first, especially if you’re already feeling overwhelmed. Remember, starting a new routine is hardest at first, but gets easier over time. Try to practice one or more of these positive habits each day to take a big step toward reducing stress and benefitting both your mind and body.