“I’m so stressed out.” While practically everyone has muttered this at least a few times, some feel that way constantly. They may even be completely debilitated by it, both physically and psychologically. An occasional bout of stress is totally normal; it can even be healthy and helpful. But for some people, it can be so severe and perpetual as to become an illness, causing more serious health conditions, which in turn leads to more stress. Thus a vicious cycle is born.
How does chronic stress develop?
Stress is a state of mind induced by the tension of uncomfortable situations that feel outside of a person’s control. The body responds by kicking the sympathetic nervous system into “fight-or-flight” mode (also known as acute stress response). Hormones levels fluctuate, heartbeat and breathing increase, blood pressure increases, and the muscles in the back of the neck start to tighten.
Chronic stress begins when all the little day-to-day stressors are managed inefficiently or not at all. The body is constantly in acute stress response, which negatively affects numerous body functions, including the immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.
What are the symptoms of chronic stress?
Chronic stress can result in a whole series of unfortunate side effects. Emotionally, a person might become increasingly moody and isolated. In addition to these, he or she may also experience lowered self esteem and feel constantly overwhelmed or panicked. Additionally, pessimism and bad habits, like smoking cigarettes or biting your nails, tend to increase.
Physically, the body may respond to chronic stress by feeling tired all the time. Constant muscle pains and headaches may develop, along with an upset stomach resulting in either diarrhea or constipation. A person’s sex drive may decrease, along with the ability to sleep normally or fight off illness. In some cases, appetites may decrease, but in others they can become outrageous. Additionally, a person’s mind may have trouble processing thoughts, remembering, focusing, and reasoning like normal.
Who gets chronic stress?
Chronic stress knows no demographic bounds. It affects all ethnicities, ages, and genders—although some more than others. According to studies, women tend to be more stressed than men, while those under 34 years old are the most stressed and those over 55 years old are the least. Even children have reported feeling symptoms commonly associated with chronic stress.
What are the causes of chronic stress?
Money is a leading stressor among Americans. However, other common causes of stress to be work, family responsibilities, relationships, health, housing, and personal safety. When one of these starts to result in significant stress, the others are more likely to rear their ugly heads and pile on top of the rest.
How do people deal with chronic stress?
Once stress reaches a chronic level, a visit to a licensed psychologist is usually a good idea. They can help provide perspective and remind patients of what’s actually important. Counselors also have lots of useful techniques for managing stress on a day to day basis. This can help keep stress levels generally low, preventing the extremes of chronic stress. These techniques might include anything from breathing exercises and meditation, to increased exercise and a better diet.
Breathing exercises and meditation can help in the moment when the panic becomes overwhelming. Exercise releases feel-good edorphins and makes the body stronger, which can lead to less worry about health concerns. Additionally, many people find activities like running help clear their mind and relieve the emotional aspects of chronic stress. Activities like yoga and other types of stretching can help with relaxation as well.
A better diet ensures that a person has all the vitamins and nutrients his or her body needs to keep it healthy overall, which means it can fight off illness more effectively. When someone lives a healthy lifestyle, the body feels better and stronger and can battle the effects of chronic stress more efficiently.
Photo: Depositphotos/© pressmaster