Chronic Stress: Definition. Causes, Symptoms, How It Affects And How To Relieve

The stress is a horrible word and a worse feeling, right? The thing is, it’s not that bad, without it, we wouldn’t be motivated to protect ourselves or act. A certain level helps us to adapt to our environment and pushes us to excel, we must really worry when the case is  chronic stress , because it can negatively affect you in multiple ways.

How can you determine if your stress is good or chronic? Let’s take a look, along with how chronic stress can kill your quality of life and why you want to incorporate natural stress relievers into your life.

What is chronic stress?

It is the response to the emotional pressure suffered during a period of time in which a person perceives that they have little or no control, it implies a response of the endocrine system in which corticosteroids are released.

While the immediate effects of stress hormones are beneficial in a particular situation in the short term, long-term exposure to stress creates a high level of these hormones, this can lead to high blood pressure (and later heart disease), damage to the muscle tissue, growth inhibition, immune system suppression, and damage to mental health.

This occurs when the body experiences stressors with such frequency or intensity that the autonomic nervous system does not have an adequate chance to activate the relaxation response on a regular basis, it means that the body remains in a constant state of physiological arousal.

It affects virtually every system in the body, either directly or indirectly. They built us to handle acute stress, which is short-lived, but not chronic stress, which is constant over a long period of time.

Signs and symptoms of chronic stress

The most dangerous thing about stress is the ease with which it can creep into you, you get used to it, it starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t realize how much it’s getting to you, even when it takes a heavy toll, so it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of chronic stress.

Cognitive symptoms

  • Problems of memory .
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of criteria.
  • See only the negative.
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worry.

Emotional symptoms

  • Depression or general unhappiness.
  • Anxiety and agitation.
  • Grumpy, irritable, or angry.
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation.
  • Other mental or emotional health problems.

Physical symptoms

  • Aches and pains.
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, fast heart rate.
  • Loss of sexual desire.
  • Frequent colds or flu.

Behavioral symptoms

  • Eat more or less.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Isolate yourself from others.
  • Procrastinate or neglect responsibilities.
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax.
  • Nervous habits (for example, nail biting)

What Causes Chronic Stress?

This type of chronic stress response occurs far too often in our modern lifestyles. Everything from high-pressure jobs to loneliness to heavy traffic can keep the body in a state of perceived threat and chronic stress.

In this case, our fight or flight response, which was designed to help us combat some life-threatening situations over a long period (such as being attacked by a bear), can wear down our bodies and cause us to become ill, either physically. or emotionally.

In fact, it is estimated that up to 90% of visits to the doctor are for illnesses in which stress plays a role. This is why it is so important to learn stress management techniques and make healthy lifestyle changes to protect yourself from the negative impact of chronic stress.

How does chronic stress affect quality of life?

It can affect you in many ways, and the following are:

Mess up your brain

Chronic stress has devastating effects on memory and learning , it actually kills brain cells. People with PTSD experience an 8% reduction in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, and stress affects children’s ability to learn more strongly.

The stress hormone cortisol channels glucose into the muscles during the stress response and leaves less fuel for the brain. Cortisol also disrupts brain cell communication by compromising neurotransmitter function.

All learning depends on the use of memory, stress affects your ability to access memories and prevents you from creating new ones.

Worse still, your hippocampus is involved in deactivating cortisol, as it is damaged by chronic stress, it becomes less capable of doing so and more damaged.

Increases the risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke

Researchers have yet to establish a direct link between chronic stress and an increased risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke, which makes chronic stress worsen risk factors for these conditions.

Stress increases your heart rate and strength, constricts your arteries and affects heart rates, thickens your blood, which can protect against blood loss in the event of injury, increases blood pressure, and chronic stress damages the linings of your muscles. blood vessels, especially since chronic stress contributes to inflammation.

Increased blood pressure is also a risk factor for stroke, and stress levels are reported to increase atherosclerosis, another risk factor for stroke.

Lower your immune system

Fighting the infection is not a primary concern if your body thinks it is facing immediate danger, but the problem is that chronic stress definitely weakens your immune system, making fighting infection that much more difficult. People seem to be much more susceptible to infections and experience more severe symptoms when they get cold or flu if they are stressed.

Stress contributes to inflammation in the body, your immune system can react to other damage in your body due to stress and send immune compounds known as cytokines that contribute to the inflammatory response, these compounds can damage healthy cells in your effort to fight the unhealthy factors that occur in your body.

Inflammation has been linked to a multitude of health conditions and diseases, from asthma and diabetes to cancer and heart disease.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that stress can negatively affect your ability to recover from a heart attack and that stress management training can help speed healing from a heart attack.

Affects the blood brain barrier, this barrier protects many substances that enter your body so that they never reach and affect your brain, things like drugs and toxins, viruses and poisons.

Contributes to aging

As I have explained, the stress response deactivates many physiological processes that are not considered urgent, consider the lack of blood flow to the skin, that is certainly going to affect how old you are. Worse, however, is the amount of chronic stress that can affect brain aging. We all lose brain cells as we age, toxins, automatic routines, improper diet, lack of exercise, and loss of social connections all contribute to this.

Reduced effectiveness of the blood-brain barrier is a common finding in people with Alzheimer’s disease , the “degenerative cascade” accelerates as the brain ages. A study of older people found that the size of the hippocampus was reduced by 14 percent in people with high cortisol levels and that these participants showed a much lower ability to create new memories for new learning. Another study found that the size of the hippocampus was related to the rate of progression in Alzheimer’s disease .

Contributes to weight gain and digestive disorders

Since digestion is also reduced during the stress response, chronic stress can contribute to a variety of digestive disorders . A bloated stomach, colic, constipation, and diarrhea are common symptoms of chronic stress, as are acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome. Stress can also make ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease worse.

Cortisol contributes to the accumulation of dangerous abdominal fat and worsens cravings for fat, salt and sugar, eating unhealthy carbohydrates can be calming, as it decreases hormonal and behavioral imbalances associated with the stress response. Unfortunately, this behavior can become habitual and lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

It affects your mood and relationships

Constant stress can affect your sleep patterns and make you feel irritable and fatigued, unable to concentrate and highly reactive, you can become unable to relax and operate in a state of anxiety . Depression is a common reaction to chronic stress, all of these things can degrade your quality of life and affect your relationships with others.

Chronic stress is associated with feelings of helplessness and lack of control, perfectionists are more likely to suffer altered levels of serotonin due to stress, the neurotransmitter “feel good” in the brain.

Increase pain

Links between pain severity and chronic stress have been established with headaches, joint pain, and muscle pain, it seems to intensify arthritis pain and back pain. Work-related stress is associated with back pain, increasing the occurrence and severity of tension headaches.

Affects sexuality and reproductive functions

Chronic stress reduces sexual desire in women and can contribute to erectile dysfunction in men. It is linked to the severity of PMS and can affect fertility in women, during pregnancy it is linked to higher rates of preterm labor and miscarriage, and can affect how babies react to stress after birth. Chronic stress can worsen the hormone-based mood swings that accompany menopause.

Affects your skin, hair and teeth

Hormonal imbalances due to stress and the fact that blood flow to the skin is reduced during the stress response can adversely affect the skin, hair, and teeth. Eczema is a common reaction to stress, acne, hives, psoriasis, and rosacea have also been linked to stress in addition to hair loss and gum disease.

Contributes to addiction

In an attempt to escape the negative feelings associated with chronic stress, many people turn to relaxing behaviors or activities that temporarily increase their dopamine and serotonin levels. Alcohol, tobacco, and substance abuse are common ways that people try to deal with stress.

Food addictions, gambling, television checking and video games are also habits that can develop due to chronic stress, all these behaviors end up making the problem worse in the long term and greatly affect mental and physical health.

How to relieve chronic stress?

As you explore the topic of chronic stress, you may feel overwhelmed at the prospect or recognition of the serious effects of stress in your life. So it’s important to spend some time discovering the many ways you can get relief from it, focus on the fact that many people have overcome chronic stress and avoided or recovered from the mental and physical problems it causes.

Relief techniques

By learning some quick techniques to manage your stress, you can get short-term relief when stress is at its worst and when you need to calm down the most. Some of these techniques include:

  • Deep breathing.
  • Listen to guided imagery recordings.
  • Have a cup of herbal tea, such as chamomile.
  • Be present in the moment, noticing the information you are getting from your 5 senses.
  • Talk to a friend or counselor.
  • Do a systematic muscle relaxation, tensing and relaxing one muscle group at a time.
  • Get a massage.
  • Watch a comedy movie or go see a comedian.
  • Listen to music: Classical music has been shown to be very effective in reducing the stress response.
  • Exercise.
  • Stroll in a natural environment.

Adopt new habits

Lifestyle choices can have a profound effect on the way you feel about your life, developing new and healthier habits can make you feel calmer and better able to handle stressful situations. Change these habits, and overcoming chronic stress becomes much easier:

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
  • Stick to a regular exercise routine.
  • Write in a gratitude journal every day.
  • Get the right amount of sleep.
  • Eat the right amount of healthy food regularly.
  • Practice meditation daily.
  • Take care of your medical needs.

The above methods may provide you with some temporary relief. However, overcoming chronic stress requires you to go beyond simple relief techniques and address the underlying issues – if you find yourself in a situation that seems out of your control, you may need help finding ways to get out of it. If your chronic stress happened because of a past trauma , you won’t get over it until you deal with the feelings and symptoms related to that past event.

Developing a healthy strategy for long-term stress relief

Talking to a counselor is the best way to dig into your stress to relieve it once and for all. A counselor can help you explore past events and current situations to discover the origin. Then they can help you work through your thoughts and feelings about it, they can teach you ways to handle the stress that remains. Finally, they can help you explore your options and provide resources to help you change or get out of the situation.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.