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The Symptoms of Chronic Stress, Part 2

Written by: Julie Thomas, Director of Victim Services and Training

What is stress anyway? Is it bad, is it good? Stress is simply the non-specific response of the body to anything in life which causes people to have to adjust or alter attention, behavior and/or demands of energy. It is a survival mechanism.

Stress, when properly managed, is constructive because we have the stress hormones we need to meet challenges and perform tasks adequately. Stress, in its simplest form, is the body and mind “rising to the occasion.”

However, when our exposure to stressful events is unending, when we don’t manage the consequences and effects of the stressful situations, and our body keeps dumping cortisol into the bloodstream, we start to see deleterious effects. This is chronic stress.

There are a multitude of symptoms of chronic stress that start showing up. These symptoms are the body’s attempt to get our attention, it is saying to us ~ excuse me, but you need to get nosier about what’s going on inside…

Psychological Symptoms of Chronic Stress include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Mood Swings
  • Sadness
  • Emotional Withdrawal
  • Persistent Worry

Let’s talk about worry for a minute…Worry is useless. There I said it! Worry gives you the false perception that you are doing something about that thing that keeps rolling around in your head. You aren’t actually solving any problem, you are just creating more stress in your body and mind. In fact, studies have shown that:

  • 40% of what we worry about general stuff that will never happen
  • 30% is in the past
  • 12% reflects needless health concerns
  • 10% are petty, miscellaneous details
  • 8% are valid issues that can be addressed rather than worried about

Back to the symptoms of chronic stress now. Physical Symptoms of Chronic Stress include but are not limited to:

  • Sleep Interruptions
  • Backaches
  • Headaches
  • Digestion Problems
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Susceptibility to Injuries

Cognitive/Mental Effects of Chronic Stress include but are not limited to:

  • Inability to Make Decisions
  • Poor Memory
  • Blocked Creativity
  • Difficulty Concentrating

When we think about chronic stress, and analyze the multitude of symptoms, it sounds pretty awful, right? You think: I would do something if I was suffering from all those terrible things. When you live with chronic stress symptoms for an extended period of time, you get used to them! Those symptoms become almost habit to you—to feel stressed out and anxious, to be over-worked, forgetful, restless in your sleep—you expect these things because your life is challenging and difficult. You minimize the effects of your job on your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

Your challenge, after understanding how chronic stress affects you, is to NOT be comfortable in the symptoms but to acknowledge them for what they are and challenge yourself to find better coping mechanisms ~ after all, all of the symptoms of chronic stress are your body and mind coping and adjusting in a way that is detrimental to you.

Have you found this 2-part series on stress useful? If so, let us know!