The experience of fleeting feelings of stress is a normal and unavoidable part of everyday life. When these sensations become chronic, which means they last for an extended period, they can have a devastating effect on a person’s health.
In this article, we examine what chronic stress is, how it can be recognized, and the potential adverse effects it can have on a person’s health. We also discuss methods for dealing with stress, such as using medical treatments and knowing when to consult a physician.
What is Meant by the Term Chronic Stress?
The human body reacts physiologically to situations that are demanding. It triggers the release of hormones within the body, such as cortisol and adrenaline, among others. These hormones help the body get ready for action by doing things like increasing the rate at which the heart beats and the breaths are taken. When something like this takes place, a medical professional might say that a person is in a state of increased arousal or alertness.
Many things can set off a stress response, such as being in a potentially dangerous situation or being subjected to psychological pressures, such as having to meet a work deadline or competing in an event. In most cases, the physiological effects of stress do not last for an extended period. On the other hand, some people discover that they are in a state of increased alertness virtually all the time. This is a prolonged state of stress. The following are some of the potential causes of long-term stress:
- High-stress jobs
- Financial difficulties
- Difficult interpersonal interactions
The body is put under pressure for a prolonged period when chronic stress is present. This can bring on a wide variety of symptoms and raise the likelihood of developing a few different diseases.
Indicators and Manifestations
The whole body is impacted when chronic stress is present. It can have several symptoms, either psychological or physical, which can make it more difficult to function on a day-to-day basis. The presentation and intensity of symptoms are highly variable from one individual to the next. Some of the signs and symptoms of chronic stress include the following:
- Extreme fatigue
- Trouble concentrating or incapability to do so
- Rapid, disorganized thought processes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Digestive issues
- Alterations in appetite
- Feelings of helplessness
- A sense of control is lost
- Low self-esteem
- Reduction or absence of sexual desire
- Frequent infections or illnesses
If the above-mentioned strategies are not producing the desired results, it is imperative to consult a healthcare professional to receive guidance and assistance. Psychological treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, is sometimes recommended by a physician (CBT). One of the established goals of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is to assist people in managing chronic stress. A therapist will work with their client during structured sessions to help them modify their behavior patterns, thoughts, and feelings in response to various sources of stress.
CBT can also assist an individual in the development of tools and effective coping strategies that can be used to manage responses to stress. When treating some of the symptoms of chronic stress, a physician may recommend that you take certain medications. As an illustration, they might recommend antidepressants as a treatment for anxiety or depression. Sedatives are sometimes recommended by doctors to patients who have trouble falling or staying asleep.
The Effects it has on One’s Health
According to the findings of various studies, chronic stress can hurt both the brain and the immune system. It’s possible for the neural networks in your brain, particularly those in your prefrontal cortex (PFC), to get smaller over time. Imaging studies on people’s brains have shown doctors this phenomenon. Whenever something like this takes place, it has the potential to result in cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dysfunctions.
The response of a person’s immune system is prompted by stress, which in turn stimulates the immune system. When stress is ongoing over a prolonged period, the immune response can become overwhelmed. The onset of illnesses and other negative health effects may be a consequence of this. Chronic stress can play a role in the development of a variety of physical and mental disorders over a long period, including the following:
- Illness of the heart
- High blood pressure
- A compromised immune system
- Sexual dysfunction
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Irritation of the skin and respiratory infections
- Autoimmune diseases
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Comparing Acute Stress With Chronic Stress
In general, acute stress refers to the stress that an individual experiences for a relatively short period. Acute stress tends to manifest itself instantly after a person experiences a stressor as a fight-or-flight reaction. This type of stress can be dangerous if left untreated. Acute stress disorder is a more severe form of post-traumatic stress disorder that typically manifests itself within the first month after a person has been exposed to traumatic events. This is very PTSD, but to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have experienced symptoms for at least one month before receiving a diagnosis.
Stress can also be occasional, which means that an individual may experience it for an extended period but only occasionally. They go through periods that are stressful and periods that are less stressful or stress-free. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is the kind of stress that individual deals with consistently throughout their entire life, to the point where being stressed out have become an everyday state of being.
A person may have the impression that they are incapable of regaining control of their life when they are continuously exposed to high levels of stress. Nonetheless, there are a variety of approaches that can help lower one’s levels of stress and enhance one’s well-being. The following are some methods that can be used to manage stress:
Gaining an Understanding of the Symptoms and Signs
These signs can vary from person to person; however, if a person can recognize their indicators of stress, they will be more likely to cope with those signals.
Having Conversations With Close Friends and Family
They can offer both emotional help and the impetus necessary to take action.
It’s not always possible to escape the events or circumstances that can cause stress. Taking note of particular triggers, on the other hand, can assist a person in developing coping and management techniques, one of which may entail reducing the amount of exposure they have.
Endorphins, which are chemicals that improve mood and reduce stress, are produced in greater quantities by the body as a direct result of increased physical activity. Walking, cycling, running, working out, playing sports, and other activities can all count as forms of exercise.
Practicing Being Mindful
The practitioners of this method of meditation focus on developing an awareness of their bodies as well as their environments through the use of breathing and thought techniques. According to the findings of some studies, practicing mindfulness can have a beneficial effect on negative mental states such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
Enhancing the Overall Quality of Sleep
One of the factors that may contribute to stress is having sleep that is of poor quality or not getting enough of it. Make it a goal to sleep for at least seven hours every night, and adhere to a schedule when it comes to when you go to bed and when you get up. In the hours leading up to bedtime, you should steer clear of caffeine, eating, and strenuous physical activity.
Activities that emphasize mindfulness, such as mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises, are sometimes recommended as part of treatment plans for chronic stress. A person may also seek the assistance of a counselor or a psychiatrist, in addition to their family and friends, to have a support system in place.
Medication that helps reduce stress may be prescribed by a psychiatrist. A person may seek the assistance of a counselor to investigate the sources of their stress, identify those sources, and locate methods of managing less harmful stress. If a person seeks assistance or treatment sooner rather than later, their potential for making a speedier recovery increases.
The presence of stress is unavoidable in modern life. When it lasts for an extended period and becomes chronic, stress can cause a variety of symptoms, but when it only lasts for a short period, it is generally harmless. Additionally, it is a factor in the development of both mental and physical disorders in some people.
Techniques for self-help include recognizing triggers, developing strategies for coping with them and avoiding them, reaching out to friends and relatives, and engaging in mindfulness practices. An individual should talk to a health professional if these methods aren’t working for them or if their stress levels continue to rise to an unbearable level.