Chronic Stress: When Stress Just Won’t Go Away

All people, in all walks of life encounter stress at some time in their lives. Though stressors may be different for each individual, feeling stress is a normal part of everyday life. If the normal stress of your daily routine becomes chronic, problems can arise.

Chronic Stress is not easily resolved and can seem unmanageable and overwhelming at times. Learning about chronic stress and how stress can affect your life may lead you to develop healthy ways to manage the stress that you are faced with.

Stress Has A Purpose

You may not have thought that stress could have a purpose, but it does. Think back to some instances in your life where you may have felt stress. Sometimes being stressed can give us just what we need to get through a tough situation. For example:

  • Stress can give us an energy boost
  • Stress can be a good motivator
  • Stress can become just the drive we need to get through a difficult situation
  • Our body’s reaction to stress can help to protect us in a threatening situation

The Natural Stress Response

The fight-or-flight-response is your body’s natural reaction to stress; it’s like an alarm that warns you of danger or worry and it is always on. When the body is seemingly threatened, the hypothalamus in the brain sets off the “alarm” and gets the body’s nerves and hormones working. The natural stress response is as follows:

  • The adrenal gland releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
  • Adrenaline provides you a surge of energy, raises your heart rate and elevates your blood pressure.
  • Cortisol intensifies the glucose in your blood, suppresses normal functions such as hunger, and communicates with the parts of the bran that regulate mood, motivation and fear.
  • Typically self-regulating, the body will calm down once the perceived threat is extinguished and will resume normal function.

The Two Types Of Stress

There are two types of stress; acute and chronic. Chronic stress is not the same as acute stress, which can sometimes be beneficial. Acute stress, or the fight-or-flight-response, is the body’s answer to a scary, threatening or challenging situation. Chronic stress occurs when the body is consistently exposed to stressors that linger for long periods of time.

Characteristics of acute stress include:

  • Your body’s immediate response to stress
  • The response is typically intense and instantaneous
  • Responses to acute stress can sometimes be thrilling

Characteristics of chronic stress include:

  • Acute stressors that seem to overwhelm and never go away
  • The chronic stress response is more subdued but can be long lasting and persistent
  • Chronic stress over time can cause health problems

What Can Cause Chronic Stress?

Chronic stress is the stressors in our lives that are persistent and not easily managed. Chronic stress is with us constantly and can last for long periods of time. If left unmanaged, chronic stress can be detrimental to your health and well-being. Chronic stress can be the result of overwhelming everyday stressors or the result of a traumatic event. The cause of chronic stress will vary from person to person, but may include:

  • Economic hardship
  • Lack of respect from family
  • Involvement in a toxic relationship
  • Being the sole caregiver for a sick loved one
  • School expectations
  • Work expectations or poor work conditions
  • Type A personality
  • Illness

The Dangers Of Chronic Stress

Because chronic stress is persistent and often unmanageable, it can have an adverse effect on your life. Chronic stress can be problematic, both physically and mentally. The effects of chronic stress can be very serious and may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Raise your risk of heart disease
  • Raise your risk of obesity
  • Raise your risk of diabetes
  • Memory impairment
  • Stomach problems
  • Can worsen underlying conditions
  • Cause skin conditions to flare up
  • Can decrease immunity
  • Negatively impact the nervous system

How To Manage Chronic Stress

The first step to managing stress of any kind is to acknowledge that the stress does in fact exist. Once you have identified the stressor or stressors responsible for your chronic stress, you need to find a way to manage your time so that strategies for coping with the stress can be implemented. You may want to try some relaxation techniques in order to cope during stressful times. Additionally, you will need to figure out how to take back control when your life seems overrun by chronic stress and find a balance with healthy body practices. Some healthy stress management methods include:

  • Get an adequate amount of sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Engage in relaxation techniques
  • Maintain healthy relationships
  • Never lose sight of your sense of humor
  • Obtain professional counseling services when necessary

(For more tips on how to relieve stress, see 10 Surprising Ways Exercise Relieves Stress.)

Considerations

If you are faced with chronic stress, try to take breaks, especially if you are the sole caregiver of an ill loved one or if you are a single parent. Taking breaks allows us to regroup our thoughts, clear our minds for a minute and gain a fresh perspective. If you are feeling stressed, and are having chest pain or shortness of breath, call emergency services immediately.

Chronic stress is hard to manage and when it is long lasting it can be detrimental to your health and well-being. If you feel that you may be suffering with chronic stress, try to identify the root of the stress and then use management techniques to cope with the stress. If you ever feel completely lost or hopeless, contact your doctor right away.

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