Chronic Stress Healing: Comprehensive Approaches to Finding Relief

Chronic stress is a pervasive and troubling issue for many. Unlike occasional stress, which is a normal part of life, chronic stress becomes a persistent state, negatively impacting our mental, emotional and even physical health. Prolonged exposure to stress triggers a series of physiological responses, activating the sympathetic nervous system and leading to the overproduction of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This sustained arousal can ultimately result in burnout, characterized by extreme fatigue and emotional numbness.

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An infographic that illustrates the Polyvagal Ladder, with Dorsal Vagal at the bottom. This is the state we can experienced through prolonged chronic stress.

In the framework of Polyvagal Theory, this condition is described as “dorsal vagal shutdown,” a state of severe immobilization and disconnection triggered by the nervous system in response to overwhelming stress. This protective mode is closely linked to burnout and occurs when the nervous system shifts from a heightened state of arousal to shutdown mode due to prolonged stress and overwork.

Chronic stress also disrupts neurotransmitter balance, leading to conditions such as anxiety, depression, and all manner of cognitive issues. Sleep disturbances such as chronic insomnia, circadian rhythm disruption and difficulties in emotional regulation are common among those experiencing chronic stress.

To effectively address chronic stress, a multifaceted approach is best, one that includes somatic healing techniques to help us feel into and express the needs of the body, plus breathwork to rebalance the autonomic nervous system. These approaches go beyond simple relaxation techniques; they require a fundamental shift in how we interact with ourselves and the world around us, moving us away from just using tools and practices mechanically, to truly engaging with our body and our needs, and becoming a new version of ourselves. 

Identifying Triggers and Patterns

Identifying our triggers and patterns help us find a way out of chronic stress.
Identifying our triggers and recognizing their patterns is the first step to finding freedom from chronic stress.

Recognizing triggers and their patterns is a crucial first step in healing chronic stress, because when we understand what circumstances or situations exacerbate our stress levels, we can proactively heal, manage or change them. When change is not possible, we can work on modifying our responses instead of reacting impulsively.

Common triggers for chronic stress include work-related pressures, chronic health issues, relationship conflicts, financial worries, family dynamics, and social situations. Whilst we can favor avoidance as a maladaptive coping mechanism, since our triggers may make us feel shame, identifying and acknowledging our triggers can actually serve us extremely well for a number of reasons. We can learn to validate our wounds and unmet needs that the triggers may be identifying, which is an important part of any somatic experiencing practice, and we can also use our triggers as the foundation for developing boundaries. Both self-validation and clear boundaries help reduce stress, prevent burnout, and nurture more positive and respectful relationships, both with ourselves and those around us. The result? We not only reduce our stress levels and the impact this has on our nervous system, but crucially, we begin to live authentically.

Becoming our authentic selves is on the other side of chronic stress.
Becoming our authentic selves is the ultimate prize from learning to navigate a way out of chronic stress.

Understanding our Emotional Patterns is Another Key Aspect of Unraveling Chronic Stress Responses

Our reactions to stressors are often influenced by deep-rooted emotional patterns developed over time, or even unaddressed trauma or attachment injuries. These patterns shape how we perceive and respond to stressful situations, as they’re often instinctual – and not always very functional – so can easily exacerbate stress levels.

Being open to explore our emotional patterns is a vulnerable yet empowering first step, and from here we can get to the root of our stress responses. This self-awareness requires us to drop our masks, which can make many avoid this process, but ultimately the only way out is to hold up a mirror to ourselves and be prepared to take accountability for the good and the bad. As we recognize where we have experienced trauma or our needs not being met, from here we can begin to meet our own needs with empathy and self-compassion. It’s also an incredibly powerful and humbling process to begin to acknowledge that some, or even a large portion of, our stress may come from habitual responses that didn’t even start with us. Transgenerational trauma – sometimes referred to as intergenerational trauma – refers to chronic stress patterns and emotional turmoil that passes from one generation to the next (read more about it in this article).

We may find we have inherited “negative thinking” patterns, pessimism, anxiety, or other forms of stress that upon closer inspection, we realize aren’t even ours to begin with. The work of Gabor Maté, Mark Wolynn, Bessel van der Kolk, and Peter Levine all discuss the topic of intergenerational trauma in detail.

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When the Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress by Gabor Maté is an excellent book that discusses psychoneuroimmunology, the impact of stress on health, mind-body connection, and chronic illness.

From Coping Strategies to Integrated Ways of Being

Effective stress management techniques are essential in combating chronic stress and preventing conditions such as burnout or adrenal fatigue. Thankfully becoming increasingly well known, somatic healing techniques, along with breathwork and vagus nerve toning, have proven effective in regulating chronic stress responses and promoting relaxation. Integrating these practices into a daily routine help to build resilience and nervous system flexibility, making chronic stressors not only more bearable, but increasing our overall wellbeing. The bottom line is that whilst we of course want easily accessible tools to help us cope with our stress, the long term resolution should also be about finding ways to integrate our stress, heal our trauma, and find less polarised and more embodied ways of being.

How Healing Happens, our free book, is available for digital download. It contains 5 self-regulation exercises to help you combat chronic stress. Download it from the free resources section of our website.

Primal Trust™: A Holistic Approach

At Primal Trust™, we specialize in helping individuals navigate their journey towards healing from chronic stress and trauma through a comprehensive, holistic approach. Our programs, including Regulate™ our Level 1 program, combine brain retraining, somatic practices, and vagus nerve toning to promote nervous system regulation and optimal health.

We emphasize the importance of both top-down and bottom-up approaches to healing – whether physical, emotional, or mental, as they’re all connected. Top-down techniques, such as brain retraining, involve working with the brain’s higher-level processes to bring about calm, while bottom-up techniques such as somatics and breathwork, focus on the body’s physical processes to soothe and stabilize the nervous system.

By integrating these approaches, we help individuals break free from chronic stress and cultivate a state of inner peace and resilience. We want everyone to be able to access a state of innate okay-ness no matter what life throws at us. The only constant after all in life, is change, and so learning to become imperturbable is a hugely valuable skill affording us incredible freedom.

Our programs also place a strong emphasis on community support and co-regulation. Being part of a nurturing community can significantly enhance the healing process – and mitigate the effects of chronic stress – by providing co-regulation, encouragement, accountability, and shared experiences. Our members have access to live classes, forums, and mentoring opportunities, ensuring there is a vast amount of support every step of the way.

Seeking Professional Help and Support

Seeking 1-1 therapy is often very beneficial when dealing with chronic stress.

Professional help is often necessary for those dealing with chronic stress. Our most recommended forms of 1-1 support for chronic stress would be working with a Somatic Experiencing therapist, IFS (Internal Family Systems) practitioners, EFT practitioners, and TRE (Trauma Releasing Exercises). There are also many fantastic counsellors and psychotherapists out there who are increasingly including somatic and trauma informed approaches in their practices.

Self-Care Practices for Combatting Chronic Stress

Self-care practices are very helpful for managing chronic stress and improving overall health, encouraging us to learn how to take full responsibility for our wellbeing and balance our activities and rest periods. Exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep (including balancing our circadian rhythm!) are foundational elements of self-care, but additionally, practices such as meditation, yoga, and spending time in nature can significantly reduce stress levels.

An approach we recommend is to focus on 3 key areas every day to regulate your nervous system and come out of chronic stress states: 1: Movement 2: Emotional Elevation 3: Breathwork

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A chart to show the 3 main forms of self-regulation we recommend every day.

Recognizing that we hold the power to shape our thoughts and reactions enables us to activate our prefrontal cortex, allowing for conscious choices rather than succumbing to the impulses of an activated limbic system. This shift in perspective is empowering. We become aware that we are the conscious creators of our responses to stress, rather than victims of it. Conscious responses pave the way toward sustainable relief and holistic healing.

By understanding chronic stress, identifying its triggers and patterns, developing healing practices, seeking professional help, joining communities such as Primal Trust™, and embracing self-care practices, we can effectively manage, heal, and learn so much more about ourselves in the process. 

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