Chronic stress is a very common ailment that affects millions of people across the United Kingdom.
It can be a debilitating illness that impacting many aspects of a person’s life including their relationships, career, life satisfaction, and overall physical health.
To help you learn more about this common condition, this article will take a closer look at chronic stress.
I’ll explain, in non-medical terms, the causes of chronic stress and what it does to the body.
Following that, I’ll identify some of the more serious health effects that occur if chronic stress is not treated.
In Western culture we treat the mind and the body as completely separate from each other, whereas Eastern cultures see them as inter-related.
The following is a good example of how the body can be affected by what is a state of mind.
What is stress?
Stress is a natural biological response that occurs when a person is confronted by a very dangerous situation.
It triggers the release of “stress hormones” that cause a variety of psychological and physiological changes within the body.
The release of these hormones puts the body into fight-or-flight mode, giving a person a greater chance of surviving the dangerous situation they are confronted with.
The hormones that are released include adrenaline, cortisol, epinephrine, and noradrenaline.
They put the body into a heightened state of alertness to increase chances of survival.
Some of the changes triggered by stress hormones include faster breathing, tense muscles, faster heart rate, increased blood pressure, release of more glucose into the bloodstream and altered brain patterns.
The stress response also deprioritises certain biological functions like the digestion of food.
Stress can be triggered by any perceived threat.
This includes threats that are real or imagined, physical or mental.
Unfortunately, this can mean that the stress response is triggered by everyday events like running late for work or dealing with financial hardship.
There are three types of stress:
Acute stress is short-term stress that is usually related to a specific incident.
Triggers for acute stress can include an upcoming work deadline, an argument with a family member, or a dentist’s appointment.
Acute stress should subside once the perceived threat has passed.
Episodic acute stress
If a person often experiences acute stress, they have episodic acute stress.
Individuals with this type of stress often have chaotic lives with many problems.
They may feel like something happens everyday that makes them feel unsafe or anxious.
Chronic stress is caused by severe living conditions.
People who are suffering from substance abuse issues, homelessness, unemployment, war, dysfunctional home environments, or abusive relationships often suffer from this type of stress.
If you have this type of stress, everyday contains multiple events that trigger a fight-or-flight response.
Chronic stress is the most dangerous form of stress because it can cause irreversible damage to your physical health or deterioration of your mental health.
Suffering from chronic stress can significantly impact the quality of of your life.
What are the negative side effects of chronic stress?
Some of the side effects of constantly being in a stressed state include:
It can become very difficult to control your emotions when stressed.
People suffering from chronic stress often experience anger, irritability, anxiety, and depression.
Problems with interpersonal relationships
It can often become difficult to sustain healthy relationships when suffering from chronic stress because of the effect it has on your emotions.
The constant release of stress hormones causes tension within the body.
It is common for people suffering from chronic stress to have headaches, back pain, jaw pain, tendon and ligament problems, and pulled muscles.
The stress response changes brain activity, boosting the parts of the brain that are useful for escaping a dangerous situation.
Unfortunately, this negatively impacts other parts of your brain, making it difficult to focus, process new information, learn new things and remember facts.
Chronic stress also increases mental fatigue.
Because the stress response deprioritises digestion, it can cause bowel problems, heartburn, diarrhoea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other issues.
Chronic stress may cause high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Compromised immune system
Chronic stress has been found to decrease the effectiveness of the immune system.
This means that people with stress are more likely to suffer from colds or flu, allergies, skins conditions, asthma, and various illnesses relating to the immune system.
What health conditions are associated with chronic stress?
Suffering from chronic stress for a long time can cause damage to the body and increase the risk of certain diseases including:
Stress increases the risk of heart disease by contributing to certain risk factors.
People suffering from stress tend to have higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, and a sedentary lifestyle.
They are also likely to smoke or abuse alcohol, which also contributes to heart disease.
When the body is stressed, it pushes more glucose into the bloodstream for energy.
Unfortunately, this can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Chronic stress can change how well the body digests food and how strong a person’s appetite is.
That is why it is very common for stressed people to eat more food than normal and gain weight more rapidly than normal.
Cortisol (one of the main stress hormones) can also cause the body to store more fat in the abdomen.
The release of stress hormones like adrenaline can cause insomnia.
The anxiety sometimes caused by chronic stress also contributes to insomnia.
Multiple studies have discovered that chronic stress can increase the risk of having asthma or can worsen the condition’s symptoms.
One study even found that stressed parents are more likely to have children with asthma.
Poor mental health
Stress contributes to a variety of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.
Accelerated ageing and premature death
Multiple studies have found that dealing with high levels of stress can cause accelerated ageing and shorten a person’s lifespan.
As you can see, chronic stress is a serious problem.
If you are experiencing chronic stress, talk to your friends, relatives, and doctor to obtain some assistance.
It is important to seek help as soon as possible to avoid any of the health conditions associated with chronic stress.