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Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is experiencing stress that continues for weeks or months without a break. Having chronic stress can get in the way of your daily living and affect how you react to the people around you.

Take action if you have chronic stress.

  • Reduce the stressors that you can.
  • Think about what has helped you cope with stressors in the past.
  • Practice stress reduction skills such as meditation, affirmations or breathing techniques.
  • Get help from a health professional such as a psychologist, social worker or psychotherapist.

What Is Chronic Stress?

Chronic stress is when you experience stress that continues for weeks or months without a break in one of three areas:

  • work
  • home
  • finances

These are important areas that we cannot get away from. Having constant stress in any of these areas will make the stress risks to your health greater.

How Does Chronic Stress Affect My Body?

Chronic stress causes constant stress reactions in your body. These stress reactions can cause negative feelings and emotions (psychological distress), which can get in the way of your daily living and affect how you react to the people around you.

The distress you feel affects your body by:

  • releasing stress hormones, like adrenaline, into your blood.
  • increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
  • increasing the amount of plaque in your arteries.
  • causing your blood to become stickier. This increases your risk of developing blood clots

Learn the signs of psychological distress and what you can do if you have them »

Having chronic stress increases your risk of having a heart attack. This is true even if you think you are doing a good job at managing chronic stress.

What Does It Mean To Have Moderate Levels of Chronic Stress?

If you have moderate levels of chronic stress, it means some areas in your life are beginning to challenge you. If you act now, you can reduce these stresses.

Take action to manage moderate chronic stress

  • Think about what activities, people or relationships cause you distress. This will help you decide what you can do to reduce these stressors.
  • Think about your strengths.
    • Write a list of attitudes, skills and behaviours that helped you to reduce stress in the past
    • Which of these attitudes, skills and behaviours could you start using more in the next two weeks?
  • Choose one stress reduction skill to start with, to begin managing your stress. Stress reduction skills include:
    • diaphragmatic breathing techniques (learning to breathe from your diaphragm or stomach)
    • progressive muscle relaxation skills or yoga
    • using visualization and imagery to create a relaxation response
    • affirmations of positive qualities in yourself
    • meditation
    • cognitive reframing (changing negative thoughts or learning to look at things differently)

What Does It Mean To Have High Levels of Chronic Stress?

When you are faced with ongoing stress at work or at home, you may feel trapped. You may also feel hopeless about making any changes in your life. Your body will feel uncomfortable because of physical stress responses caused by the tension in your life.

High levels of chronic stress increase your risk of having other chronic problems, both emotionally and physically. These problems can be hard to correct or change. 

Take action to prevent or manage high chronic stress


  1. Time Management from the Inside Out 2nd Edition (2004). Julie Morgenstern, Henry Holt Co: New York.
  2. The Disease to Please: Curing the people pleasing syndrome (2001). Harriet B. Braiker, McGraw-Hill: New York.
  3. The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. 6th Edition (2008). Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman and Mathew McKay, New Harbinger Publications: Oakland CA.
  4. Mind over Mood: Change how you feel by changing the way you think (1995). Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky, New York: Guilford Press.
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