Unchecked stress can have a devastating impact on your body. And if you're not careful, you can live with it for years not recognizing the damage it's causing.

My body sent me signals for a long time that trouble was brewing inside: hair loss, gastrointestinal issues, and occasional bouts of depression.

I knew there was something not quite right, but I didn't know that stress was a major source of it.

Living with chronic stress means your body is always on high alert, as if it's ready to fight a ravenous tiger.

And since you aren't designed to operate on high alert for prolonged periods of time, breakdowns start to occur. Research from Harvard Medical shows that 60-90 percent of doctor's visits are caused by stress.

Here's how Dr. Kevin Cuccaro of Straight Shot Health describes the impact chronic stress has on you:

"If you have that on all the time, you're repeatedly stressed or maintaining that high level of stress response, it can actually start breaking down your body. It worsens things causing heart disease, it can cause gastrointestinal problems. Even things like just thinking clearly. You're not able to think as well. It affects every organ system in the body."

That's exactly what happened to me. After years of living with stress, my body couldn't take it anymore. I ended up in the hospital for ten days, and had a long recovery afterward.

Now that I know how detrimental stress is, I take great care to manage it both proactively and reactively. Here's are seven powerful ways I've learned to keep it in check. When you apply one or more of these into your routine, you'll start to beat it too.

1. Recognize your power to choose

You may not be able to control everything that happens in your world, but you can choose how you respond. Re-framing your perception of problems or perceived threats into challenges you have to ability to overcome makes a big difference.

Knowing I can choose which thoughts stay in my head--or which environments I put myself in--makes me feel powerful rather than helpless.

2. Maintain a stress-free work environment

I used to think working in a high-stress environment was normal. But as I started to recognize my body was having a strong negative reaction to going to my corporate job every day, I knew needed to make a change.

Now, as an entrepreneur, I'm in control. I choose when, where, and how I work, and even who I work with.

And if I need a break to engage in other stress-relieving activities, I give myself the freedom to do that.

You can take control of your work too.

Taking walks, not overloading your project list, and setting up simple systems and processes can make your days much more sane.

3. Meditate

Numerous studies show meditation helps reduce stress. A few years ago, I started a 20 minute morning meditation practice. It's worked wonders in helping start my day off in a calm and peaceful state.

And if you find yourself in a situation that fills you with anxiety during your day, a few deep breaths work like a charm to get you back on track.

4. Work out regularly

Moving your body is a major stress reliever. The endorphins help you feel better, and it also enables you to take a mental break from life's cares that work to weigh you down.

I've started practicing yoga daily. Even five minutes a day can help.

5. Make sleep a priority

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night to prevent operating at a deficit.

6. Love stressful people from afar

Sometimes the biggest sources of stress are the people we love, or those we interact with on a regular basis.

I feel so much better after distancing myself from people who didn't help my mental state.

Take inventory of the people in your circle, and identify if there's anyone you need to love from a distance.

7. Practice gratitude

Every time I start making a list of the things that are right in my world, my mood instantly improves.

Even making a small list of three things you are grateful for each day will help you see positive results. It'll give you greater perspective about what's really important.

Chronic stress is terrible for your health. Tune into the signals your body sends you when it is operating on high alert.

Incorporate these practices in your daily routine to make sure chronic stress doesn't break you down like it did me. Do it before your body forces you to do it. It's more than worth your effort.

Besides, a less-stressed life is a much more enjoyable one.