Our bodies are hard-wired to react to stress to protect us from potential threats. While we are no longer being threatened by predators or other aggressors, we are still facing multiple demands each day that our body reacts to in the same way.
What Is Stress?
In many cases, stress is described as feeling overwhelmed, worried, run down, or anxious. Anyone can be affected by stress regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic standing, or circumstances. Some stress is beneficial to our lives because it produces a boost of drive and energy allowing us to get things done. In most cases, everyday stressors can be managed with healthy stress management skills. However, this isn’t always the case and extreme and chronic amounts of stress can have severe health consequences.
What Is Chronic Stress?
Acute stress is something we deal with on a regular basis, before an exam, a job interview, or when we are almost in a car accident. You will feel the effects of this stressful situation, but the stress will diminish when the stressor is gone and your body will recover. Chronic stress is the stress that people deal with day after day for years on end. The things that can cause chronic stress include poverty, dysfunctional family dynamics, an unhappy or abusive marriage, or a hated job. Chronic stress occurs when a person feels as though they have no way out of a miserable situation and they give on searching for a solution.
How Chronic Stress Kills
Chronic stress can lead to a multitude of health problems including:
A study done by the University of Maryland Medical Center showed that chronic stress affects the ability to concentrate and react to situations efficiently. It also showed that those experiencing chronic stress were more accident prone and forgot things frequently.
Digestive Disorders –
Digestion isn’t the body’s priority when it is responding to stress. Because of this, chronic stress can contribute to many digestive disorders including bloated stomach, cramping, constipation, acid reflux, ulcers, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Increased Risk Of Heart Problems –
In the same study done by the University of Maryland Medical Center, a link was found between chronic stress and an increased risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke. This is because stress causes your heart rate to increase and can constrict your arteries and thicken the blood, which affects heart rhythms.
Lowered Immune System –
When your body is responding to stress, fighting an infection is no longer its primary concern. This doesn’t matter when you are facing acute stress, but when you are dealing with chronic stress, you are more susceptible to infections and more severe colds and flu, which in many cases may increase your stress.
Chronic stress affects sleep patterns, leaving you feeling irritable, fatigued, and highly reactive. Depression is also common among those dealing with chronic stress. Dealing with these negative emotions and mental health issues often lead to a lowered quality of life and difficulty interacting positively with others.
Skin, Hair And Teeth Problems –
Coping with chronic stress also leads to hormonal imbalances. Eczema, acne, hives, psoriasis, rosacea, hair loss, and gum disease have all been linked to chronic stress.
It is important to remember that stress is normal and you are never going to be able to live a completely stress-free life. However, this doesn’t mean that you must live a life feeling bogged down with constant stress and worry. The first thing to do is identify what areas of your life are causing you to be chronically stressed, and then see what changes you can make.