Stress Series: What You Need to Know about Chronic Stress

This is the third article in our ongoing stress series. Previous articles include The Biology of Stress and Recognizing the Early Warning Signs of Stress

When work starts to get overwhelming, when household responsibilities begin to pile up, when your relationships cause you to feel tired, worn out, and hopeless, stress will start to creep in. Stress is the body’s natural reaction designed to protect us from danger, but in the modern world stress is often caused by the pressure of everyday life. Stress gives us a quick burst of focus and energy, but it must be coupled with a recovery period. Without a recovery period, stress becomes chronic and the advantages of stress no longer apply – only drawbacks.

Everyone reacts differently to stressors. Some people might eat more when stressed while others lose their appetite completely. There are those who can’t sleep when they experience too much stress and then there are some that sleep the entire day away. While stress can be beneficial in small doses to impel us to action, chronic stress takes a negative toll on your mental, emotional, and physical health.

What is the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Stress?

There are generally two types of stress – acute stress and chronic stress.

Acute stress is the recent result of a problematic situation that causes a person to feel pressured or tense. It could be that you just discovered that your parents are coming over for the weekend; you are behind on work with a deadline fast approaching; you are in an argument with your partner, or you are in a car accident. Stress is a natural reaction to these traumatic events of varying severity. Whatever the reason, acute stress is stress that is fairly recent and short-term. It can generally be linked to a preceding cause or event. This is not to say acute stress is not severe – acute stress left unaddressed can lead to a disorder such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Chronic stress is defined as stress that has been present in a person’s life for a prolonged period of time, which they might no longer have the ability to control. Chronic stress is actually seen as a health issue and often requires medical intervention in order to resolve. Usually, the reasons for chronic stress include ongoing unfavourable work situations, poor family relationships, or financial problems.

Physiologically, your stress hormones (corticosteroids) remain at an elevated level for a prolonged period of time. Stress hormones are meant to kick your body and mind into overdrive in a dangerous situation so you can react and solve the threat. When stress levels remain elevated, it may lead to health issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

How to Treat Chronic Stress

There is a multitude of ways that you can address you chronic stress. If you want to resolve your chronic stress, make sure you put these simple steps into action.

  1. Take a Walk – Make walking a regular part of your daily routine. Physical exercise is said to be a great outlet for people who are feeling troubled or stressed, so going on a daily walk will help to greatly reduce your stress levels.
  2. Talk to Someone About It – Oftentimes, people struggle with stress because they don’t have anyone around to share their thoughts and pains with. Find someone you can talk to about the stresses in your life and find solutions for your problems through social interaction. Whether it is your spouse, a family member, friend, or a therapist in Ottawa, simply expressing your struggles out loud can be a huge relief.
  3. Make the Necessary Lifestyle Changes – Practice good sleep hygiene, eat a balanced, healthy diet, and exercise regularly. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you’re less likely to encourage negative feelings and thoughts that could be adding to your chronic stress.

One of the most effective ways to alleviate and cope with stress is to talk with a therapist. A therapist can help you identify stressors and equip you with techniques to relieve stress in your daily life.