Why we should stop stress becoming chronic

Chronic Stress vs Acute Stress

Our bodies and minds were built to sustain short bursts of stress, also referred to as acute stress. Our biology means that we respond to this type of stress by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, for example, but because with acute stress this occurs for a short period only, it is relatively harmless. Therefore, acute periods of stress are unlikely to have a detrimental impact on us mentally or emotionally, or on our relationships, or in regard to our ability to do our jobs.

However, if we experience too much stress and for long periods of time, the stress can become chronic. There are many negative consequences of chronic stress. It affects our cognition and our memory, including having a negative impact on our ability to recall specific memories, for example (Munoz, 2013). Chronic stress also alters the areas of the brain connected with managing our emotions and so we experience mood-related issues (Kim & Won, 2017). It also over stimulates the amygdala and because the amygdala is central to managing our response to fear, it means we then often experience more anxiety (Wilson, 2013). Furthermore, repeated activation of the “fight or flight” system, that occurs with chronic stress, decreases the production of the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin (which regulate our mood and emotions), and so we are more susceptible to low mood and depression (Wilson, 2013). 

if we do not take action to regularly de-stress, we can become chronically stressed

Stress can Lead to Burnout

Consequently, if we do not take action to regularly de-stress, we can become chronically stressed which negatively impacts us in numerous ways. This includes negatively impacting the structure and function of the brain, our health and well-being (resulting in a wide range of physical health issues) and our emotions. Chronic stress can also have a detrimental effect on our relationships and our ability to do our jobs. It can also lead to burnout and cost us our career, as it did with me twice, as I reveal in my book “The 5 Keys to Burnout Recovery”.

Symptoms of Stress

One of the challenges is that it can be difficult to recognise that what we are experiencing is in fact stress, particularly chronic stress. This is because there are numerous symptoms of stress, some of them more obvious than others. In addition, these stress symptoms often overlap and are interrelated. It was for example, recently reported that there are approximately 63 symptoms of stress! These include 32 physical symptoms (ranging from neck and back pain to insomnia and increased colds, flu and infections), 13 behavioural or relational ones (including drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or yelling), 12 emotional (such frustration and anger) and 6 mental symptoms (including anxiety and an inability to concentrate) (The Global Organization for Stress, 2021).

Overcoming Stress

Therefore, it is important to pay attention to our bodies, to any physical symptoms we may be experiencing, and our behaviours, our emotions and our mental well-being. It is important to become aware of any stress we may be experiencing, and take action to reduce it, as it can help to reduce the stress-related symptoms we may be experiencing. If we take action to reduce stress on a regular basis, we can help to prevent it becoming chronic and thus enhance our resilience and well-being.

Do contact your GP if you are experiencing any health issues.

If you would like to work with me to help manage your stress then please get in touch.

References

The Global Organization for Stress (2021). The Symptoms of Stress. www.gostress.com.

Kim, Y. & Won, E. (2017). The influence of stress on neuroinflammation and alterations in brain structure and function in major depressive disorder. Behavioural Brain Research, 329, 6-11.

Munoz, L. M. P. (2013). Stress Hormone Hinders Memory Recall. Cognitive Neuroscience Society: Retrieved from: https://www.cogneurosociety.org/cortisol_memory/

Wilson, A. (2013). Mindfulness meditation and the brain. Huffington Post: Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kripalu/mindfulness-meditation_b_3238677.