Recognizing the signs of chronic stress and the effects it may have on your general health.
Most people have experienced stress in their lives. A physical and psychological response to a particular event, stress can motivate us throughout the day and help us accomplish what needs to be done.
When stress becomes chronic, however, it can negatively affect our health and our ability to function throughout the day. Unaddressed, it can spill over into our work, relationships, school, and home life. It can impair our performance and drain our energy, preventing us from enjoying life to the fullest.
When you feel like you are losing control of your life due to prolonged stress, meeting with a mental health professional may be helpful. Mental health providers can help you reduce your symptoms of stress and regain a sense of control. Understanding the signs of chronic stress can help you determine when to seek help.
Chronic Stress vs. Acute Stress
Acute stress is short-term stress. It occurs during an isolated incident, and its symptoms are temporary. For example, you may experience it when sitting in a traffic jam, arguing with a family member, or dealing with an unhappy customer at work.
People experiencing short-term stress may feel anxious or irritated. They may temporarily lose their ability to concentrate or develop a headache. While stress can be uncomfortable, your body can handle small amounts. Once the situation has passed, its symptoms usually subside quickly.
Unlike acute stress, chronic stress is persistent and usually occurs when feeling overburdened or under pressure for a prolonged period of time. Various factors can lead to chronic stress, such as an unhealthy relationship, having a job where you feel overworked, or suffering from a chronic medical condition that affects your energy.
While the body can manage small amounts of stress, long-term stress can result in serious mental and physical side effects, such as chronic pain, high blood pressure, low energy, sleeping issues, isolation, and more.
Common Symptoms of Chronic Stress
People who suffer from chronic stress often experience physical and psychological symptoms, making it difficult to function normally in their daily lives. While symptoms can vary for each individual, the following symptoms are typical of chronic stress.
Physical Symptoms of Chronic Stress
- Chronic pain
- Loss of energy
- Sleeping problems
- Suppressed immune function
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Changes in appetite
Mental Symptoms of Chronic Stress
- Unable to relax
- Brain fog
- Frequently agitated or irritated
- Avoiding people or places
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Disorganized thinking
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling helpless
- Concentration problems
Conditions Related To Chronic Stress
Long-term activation of your body's stress response and excessive exposure to stress hormones can negatively affect several processes in the body. This can increase your risk for many mental and physical health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Memory impairment
Causes of Chronic Stress
In today's fast-paced society, many of us experience stress weekly or even daily. Feeling under pressure or overwhelmed for a prolonged period can lead to chronic stress.
When this occurs, the body experiences stressful situations so often that it cannot initiate its relaxation response, preventing the mind and body from recovering.
As a result, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline remain high throughout the day, and its effects are felt constantly.
Although stress can come from a variety of sources, the following are the most common stressors people face today:
- Work-related stress
- Relationship issues
- Divorce or breakup
- Loss of a loved one
- Major life changes, such as moving, having a baby, or starting a new job
- Financial hardships
- Losing a job
- Chronic health conditions or injuries
- Being a caregiver
When to Seek Professional Help
We've all experienced stress at some point in our life. While stress is inevitable, it's not always bad. Stress can help you overcome daily challenges, motivate you to reach your goals, and help you respond to threats. However, when stress becomes persistent and affects your emotional, mental, and physical well-being, it may be time to seek professional help.
Working with a mental health provider can help you better understand your stressors and learn effective and healthy strategies for managing your symptoms. Treatment may be beneficial if you are experiencing any of the following signs.
- You feel overwhelmed with anxiety or worry
- You feel helpless
- Your performance in work or school is declining
- You are not getting enough sleep or are oversleeping
- You notice sudden changes in your weight
- Your eating habits change
- You are abusing alcohol or drugs
Left untreated, chronic stress can have severe implications for your mental health and can increase your risk for a variety of chronic health conditions. If you or a loved one is having thoughts about self-harm or harming others due to stress, it's important to get help immediately.
There is no reason to continue to suffer. Working with a trained mental health professional can quickly teach you new ways to problem solve, prioritize, and cope with these stressors.
How is Chronic Stress Diagnosed?
Stress is a personal experience and can not be measured with testing. Only the person experiencing stress knows when it's present and how intense it feels.
When consulting with a mental health professional, you may be asked to fill out questionnaires to help them understand how stress affects you and where treatment should be focused.
In cases of chronic stress, a healthcare provider can assess the physical symptoms associated with it, such as high blood pressure or insomnia.
How is Chronic Stress Treated?
If chronic stress is significantly affecting your well-being or making it difficult for you to function normally, getting professional treatment can improve your coping mechanisms for reducing your stress levels. Psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes are common treatments for chronic stress.
In psychotherapy, or talk therapy, individuals work with a licensed mental health professional to explore the source of their stress and how to change their perception of it. Psychotherapy has been shown to be incredibly effective at reducing the emotional and physical impact of stress.
Working with a mental health provider can also help you develop lasting coping skills that will help you better manage stress now and in the future.
Psychotherapy can be delivered using a variety of techniques. Depending on your history and level of stress, your mental health provider may use one or more of the following techniques.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This approach helps individuals identify negative thinking patterns that can increase stress and anxiety. Working with a therapist, you will learn to understand and modify unhealthy thought patterns, determine your triggers, adopt new, positive behaviors, and learn specific tools for handling problems.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): This form of therapy helps people recognize and accept the thoughts and feelings associated with their stress triggers. Individuals will work with a therapist to change their response to stress and learn how to feel more relaxed when stressful situations arise.
- Behavioral Therapy: This technique is more focused on a person's actions rather than thoughts. By changing unhealthy behavioral responses, individuals can create new patterns to overcome stressful situations. This form of therapy typically works well for people who suffer from long-standing stress triggers.
- Psychodynamic Therapy: This technique focuses on identifying destructive thought patterns that may influence behavior. A patient's past experiences will be explored during therapy sessions to understand how they may be affecting their response to stress.
- Exposure Therapy: This form of therapy is well suited for individuals who avoid specific places, objects, circumstances, or people due to stress. Overtime, a mental health professional will gradually expose the patient to the source of their stress and help them modify their response to the specific trigger.
- Group Therapy: In this form of therapy, a mental health professional will oversee a group of people who are going through similar experiences. Together they can talk about their thoughts and feelings. Group settings can help people feel more supported and more comfortable to open up.
In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help reduce your symptoms associated with stress. If an underlying mental health condition like depression or an anxiety disorder is causing your stress, you may be prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. You may also be prescribed sleeping medications if your stress results from insomnia.
Lifestyle changes can be extremely beneficial in reducing chronic stress and its effects. To minimize your stress, try incorporating the following lifestyle changes.
- Practice relaxation and mindfulness techniques
- Address recurring negative thoughts and worry
- Practice gratitude and self-acceptance
- Build your social networks and support system
- Improve your sleeping habits
- Eat a balanced diet
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Limit consumption of alcohol
- Avoid cigarettes and drugs
Stress Management at CHE Behavioral Health
Having chronic stress can be both mentally and physically draining. If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, struggling in work or your personal life, or suffering physical symptoms of stress, working with a mental health provider can help reduce your symptoms and improve your overall well-being.
With CHE Behavioral Health Services, you don't have to face life's challenges on your own. Our network of experienced mental health professionals can teach you how to manage stress more effectively and provide you with tools for improving your quality of life. With comprehensive stress management services, we address the source of your stress, allowing you to find lasting relief.
For more information about stress management and treatment options offered by CHE Behavioral Health Services, please call 888-515-3834. We are ready to talk, and ready to listen.