What is chronic stress?
Chronic stress refers to the experience of feeling emotionally pressured and overwhelmed over a prolonged period of time. This isn’t the periodic, short-lived and often helpful stress that energises and galvanizes us into action (called eustress) but rather that background hum of feeling constantly overwhelmed and fatigued by all that we think we have to do.
Some signs that you may be experiencing the effects of chronic stress:
- Often feeling rushed or pressured for time.
- Avoiding friends, colleagues or family because you think they may burden you with something you just can’t deal with
- Frequent feelings of being unable to cope.
- Difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep because your mind will not settle.
- Having stressors in your life that are present over a long period of time. This could include caring for a sick family member, struggling in a job you dislike, having a chronic pain condition or relationship difficulties that you can’t resolve.
- Being unable to relax or appreciate free time even when you have it.
- Observing a decline in your productivity even though you feel that you never stop.
- Noticing difficulties with your memory and concentration.
- Observing increasing numbers of ailments and illnesses.
- Weight, blood pressure or heart problems that you or your GP suspect are influenced by stress.
Stress invades our life in all kinds of ways!
Stress invades our life in all kinds of ways. We are quite familiar with feeling stressed at work, in our relationships, about how well our kids are doing or about our finances, and we are used to feeling time poor and overwhelmed. But stress can also come to us through the unhealthy foods we eat, our exposure to everyday chemicals and toxins in the environment, stress from toxic thoughts, from lack of exercise, from illness, and even from feeling disconnected from others, lonely or isolated.
Fight or Flight
Our brain has evolved a pretty cool mechanism for dealing with acute or once-off stressors. It’s called the fight or flight response. You know when it has been triggered because you may feel breathless, tense, hot, agitated or pumped. This is the body’s response to the release of hormones such as adrenalin, norepinephrine and cortisol that prepare us for action.
Simply put, the brains’ job is to recognise and respond to perceived threats in our environment and decide in a split second whether to fight or run away to ensure our survival. Note that word ‘perceived’ – it is highly relevant! In the caveman days when most of our threats were external and physical – think wild animals chasing us, competing tribes trying to take our women or fight us for territory, this response was a sure fire way to improve our chances of survival. We would perceive the threat, respond accordingly, then reset and go back to a baseline level of vigilance.
It’s all about perceived threat!
Flash-forward to the current day in our modern societies and clearly life is no longer about physical survival for most of us. The mechanism for fight or flight, however, is still always doing its ‘threat analysis’. Problems arise when this mechanism continues prowling for threats but doesn’t find them in our physical environment. It then starts looking inward and all of a sudden we are getting activated by thoughts like ‘why didn’t my friend respond to my text straight away’ or, ‘that driver on the road cut me up on purpose’. Basically, our imagination becomes the limit for things to stress about and many of these things can’t be resolved so we are unable to respond and reset. As I’m sure you can appreciate, this can leave us in a permanent state of activation with few opportunities to switch off and genuinely relax.
Your body and mind forget how to relax!
With repeated or constant activation our fight/flight system can train the body to stay in that state much of the time, leading to difficulties with relaxation or sleep. You may find your mind is always thinking or racing and your body feels on edge. Essentially, your body and mind become hypervigilant with the anticipation of almost constant threat. Once this happens the body essentially needs to be mindfully re-trained back into a state of relaxation. Common ways to do this include regular relaxation practices such as yoga, tai chi, massage, guided relaxation or meditation.
Find more information on the topic go of stress here
I so appreciate you taking the time to read my posts and I sincerely hope that you find them helpful. Please understand, however, that the information you find here is not a substitute for therapy. If you have serious concerns about your mental or emotional health please seek personal, professional help.
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