When It’s More than Just Stress

Stress is a part of most of our daily lives. Stressors can range from somewhat typical concerns, like juggling a busy family’s calendar or remembering to pay a bill, to much more complex stressors, like concern over a sick loved one or saving enough money for a comfortable retirement. Many people experience stress at various times throughout the day, and our natural coping mechanisms enable us to find solutions to our stress, whether it’s eliminating the problem or learning to manage our emotions.

From one day to the next, stress can be a very normal and positive part of our lives. Our bodies are built to handle certain amount of stress—it’s what’s kept us alive and thriving for centuries. When we sense that we are in danger, our bodies trigger a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. This was critical for when humans needed to be able to sense a danger and escape. But today, our lives and our society are completely different—and often, that feeling of ‘fight or flight’ becomes a part of daily life due to constant stress.

Dr. Kate Chard, the director of the Trauma Recovery Center at the Cincinnati Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, and professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati, cautions patients to be aware of when stress graduates from “just stress” to a more serious form of chronic stress. “When extreme stress becomes a part of our daily lives, it can significantly impact our wellbeing, including physical, mental, and emotional fatigue,” says Chard.

In a physiological sense, stress has several impacts on our bodies, she says. “When we experience stress, our heart rates elevate, our blood pressure increases, we get a rush of energy from adrenaline, and we prepare to react. These are all important reactions if we are in immediate danger. However, prolonged levels of any of these physiological reactions can put an undue amount of stress on our bodies.”

Similarly, when our minds are constantly stressed and preparing for worst-case scenarios, our personality, mental fortitude, emotions can be significantly impacted. Chronic stress, which many high-level professionals experience, can deteriorate our health.

Indications of chronic stress include:• Overwhelming feelings of worry • Inability to sleep• Trouble focusing• Issues managing emotions or reactions
Chronic stress can occur as a result of too many daily stressors, or it can be a result of a traumatic event. If left untreated, chronic stress can cause physical ailments, like ulcers, high blood pressure, muscle pain, a weakened immune system, insomnia, and more. Constant, significant stress can also lead to the onset of more significant mental disorders, including anxiety and depression.

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