Chronic Stress: Symptoms and Effects

Stress is a fact of life but chronic stress does not have to be a way of life. Recognize your stress symptoms and use stress management techniques to reduce the effects of stress.

Just glance at the covers of New York Times or Washington Post, or turn on CNN... you will see what you already know: Stress is a fact of life!

Even the World Health Organization states that stress is a "global epidemic."

High pressure jobs, loneliness, traffic jams – anything that annoys or frustrates you has the potential to keep your body in a constant state of alert.

Every day we are confronted with daily hassles that are perceived as the stress of modern-day living.

But you don’t have to be passive to stress!

You can choose to take control of stress.

Recognize your warning signs of stress and put into place effective stress management tips to reduce the effects of stress on your mind and body.

What is chronic stress?

Chronic stress occurs when your body is in a state of constant arousal in which your stress response is activated.

This stress response has served us well in the past.

The caveman who narrowly escaped the jaws of a saber-tooth tiger, thanks to the boost of stress hormones such as adrenaline or cortisol, lived for another day.

But chronic stress is different from acute stress.

Some common causes of this type of stress include:

  • ongoing job stress that leaves you frazzled and fatigued

  • persistent concerns over the economy or financial stress
  • daily hassles that include long commutes, inadequate work life balance, or relationship difficulties
  • ongoing caregiver stress.

While there are number positive effects of stress the BIG PROBLEM for many people today is that it is difficult to turn the stress response off.

Every day you are faced with the daily hassles of traffic jams, unrelenting pressure and workloads, financial concerns, a noisy roommate, or worry about the environment.

You may not be constantly consumed by the fight or flight response but your body could be similar to a car that is idling along at a revs per minute that is too high!

The engine is working too hard to stay in balance!

While you may think you are adapting to higher and higher stress levels you may just be living with an unhealthy amount of stress.

This produces wear and tear and an increased incidence of stress-related illnesses.

chronic stress

The Danger of Chronic Stress

This type of stress is deceptive and pervasive!

This is what makes this type of stress so dangerous.

Dealing with chronic stress symptoms involves:

1. becoming more aware of your stress symptoms
2. knowing your causes of stress
3. implementing effective stress management techniques.

The effects of chronic stress on health

Consider this anecdotal story by a stress management expert on the physical effects of stress.

One day a stress management lecturer was explaining the concept of unrelenting stress to his students.

He started by raising a cup of coffee that he was holding.

"How heavy is this cup of coffee?" he said.

The students called out 7oz to 15oz.

The lecturer replied, "The weight of the cup does not matter so much, what matters is the length of time I hold it for."

"If I hold this cup of coffee for 60 seconds there is not a problem."

"If I hold the cup for 20 minutes I will have a sore wrist."

"If I hold it for one hour my muscles will spasm and hurt."

"If I hold the cup for a day I will end up in hospital."

"The weight of the cup of coffee has not changed," he explained to the class.

"What has changed," he said, "is the length of time that I carry the burden."

Chronic stress is a bit like this.

Chronic stress increases the incidence of health problems, including:

Heart disease

Sexual dysfunction

Stress headaches and migraine headaches

Anxiety and depression

Sleep problems


What you can do to reduce stress in your life

This type of stress is pervasive and deceptive.

So a first step to take is to know what your symptoms of stress are.

Once you have an understanding your signs of stress you can put into place relaxation techniques or regularly practice these stress management tips to deal with stress.

A contemporary definition of stress is dependent on the way that you perceive a situation as stressful or not.

One person may view speaking in front of an audience as stressful while another may see this as an opportunity to share their knowledge.

So stress is very much influenced by thoughts and emotions.

You Have a Choice

For example, consider two people stuck in a traffic jam.

One may be frustrated and angry that they will be late and their stress response is activated.

The other may choose to see this as an opportunity to spend their time listening to audio downloads and gaining a new skill, learning a new language, or becoming more expert in their area of work.

While this is a very simplistic example there is a long line of research that illustrates that perception influences stress.

For some tips for reducing stress see the articles on positive thinking and positive mental attitude.

Search here for more ways to deal with stress

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General Adapatation Syndrome: GAS Explains the Effect of Stress on Health

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