A 2015 Stress in America survey concluded that money and work have been the top two sources of stress for adults in America for eight years and counting. For my entrepreneurs, innovators, and creators out there that identify with this statistic (let’s face it, it’s probably most of you), this article is a must-read.

When discussing the dangers of chronic stress, we often see people talk about how a person’s mental health or relationships can falter. Since grade school the majority of us have heard about how stress can lead to fatigue, anxiety, and increased anti-social tendencies. Though this is not at all a bad thing, what about how stress can physically affect us?

Think about it. How often do we talk about what happens to our bodies when put in constant stress without time to recharge? Sure, we know nothing good can come out of it, but would you believe that you could be damaging every system in your body?

If you’re someone who rolled your eyes at that possibility and thought “no way,” I have some bad news for you: it’s the truth. 

The various systems in our body are interconnected in ways we often don’t realize. So, when our cortisol levels are constantly raised through the roof due to chronic stress, pretty much every system in your body gets a sour taste of it. The potential results? I’m about to share them with you.

Listed below are three ways chronic stress could be harming your body. You may be familiar with a few of them, but let the ones new to you act as a wake up call. If you experience chronic stress and don’t change your lifestyle, your future may be filled with some serious physical consequences.

Physical Effects

Wearing Out Your Respiratory System

Entrepreneur taking deep breath outside
Entrepreneur taking deep breath outside

We all know the feeling. The unmistakable moment when your chest tightens or your lungs refuse to let in a deep breath when confronted with a wave of stress or strong emotions. Why does this happen? You can thank your stressed out respiratory system.

When your body is hit with a heavy dose of stress, the airway between the nose and lungs can constrict, leading to breathlessness or hyperventilating. Though the body often returns to normal after the stress has passed, there’s no denying it can cause a rush of fear and panic, especially for those living with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

Those with asthma, emphysema, or other breathing conditions can suffer through prolonged periods of rapid breathing or shortness of breath when their respiratory system is put under distress, according to the American Psychological Association. So, in order to avoid letting this become a part of your weekly (or even daily for some of my ultra-stressed readers) routine, you’ll want to keep a careful eye on your stress levels.

Raising the Risk of Long-term Heart Problems

Entrepreneur clutching heart in pain
Entrepreneur clutching heart in pain

The fact our hearts are so sensitive to stress is a good thing when the stress is short-lived. In situations where we have to act fast, our skyrocketing heart rates and spiked cortisol levels could be the factors that save our lives when we’re about to take a nasty fall or cause a car accident. 

If you’re living in a constant state of stress, on the other hand, you could be doing your cardiovascular system a whole lot of damage. On-going stress not only weakens the heart and blood vessels, but also increases chances of hypertension, circulatory system inflammation, heart attack, and stroke. So next time you’re having trouble relaxing, let those statistics convince you the downtime is worth it.

Stirring Up Your Gastrointestinal System

Entrepreneur clutching heart in pain
Entrepreneur clutching heart in pain

Our gastrointestinal systems do a lot more than we usually give them credit for. The human gut is filled with countless neurons that are constantly communicating with the brain (ever experience butterflies in your stomach? You’ve got the gut-brain connection to thank for that).

When high levels of cortisol start unleashing throughout the body and interfering with that connection, how can we not expect our tummies to be tampered with? If you’ve ever felt like you started experiencing higher levels of bloating, pain, or gastrointestinal discomfort when stressed out, I have good news: it probably isn’t just in your head. So, for my chronically stressed folks out there who currently think they’re just doomed to live in a constant state of bloating and discomfort, try taking it easy for a few weeks. You may be surprised to see your stomach feeling better and looking flatter.

Though these are just a few ways the body can be damaged by chronic stress (you can read about more here, if you’d like), it’s enough to make anyone who lives a stress-filled life start to worry about their health.

Before you start to panic, I have good news: relieving yourself of chronic stress can be easier than you think. In fact, researchers at Mental Health America have found that working to improve your sleep schedule, implement relaxation and meditation into your routine, and keeping with a consistent exercise routine could be the three keys to turning your life around and waving goodbye to chronic stress for good. So, after you exit out of this article consider heading to bed early, hitting the gym, or doing some yoga—you may just see instant results.

What tips do you have for managing chronic stress? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.