The APAA defines chronic stress as uncomfortable emotional experiences. There are predictable outcomes from stress which includes:
- Biochemical changes
- Physiological changes
- Behavioral changes
The best definition of stress would be that our minds telling our body it’s in danger. The body gets worked up to help you fight or escape but this energy is never released.
This could be something that is perceived as danger when it, in fact, isn’t. Major causes of stress today include getting fired from your job, being late, or losing someone you love.
These are not reasons to stress out and yet we do. This causes damage to the mind and unfortunate life experiences.
How Stress Affects the Brain
Cortisol is the stress hormone that the brain tells us to release in times of anxiety or stress. It has been associated with varying health problems such as:
- Interfering with learning and memory.
- Weakens the immune system.
- Weakens bone density.
- A leading cause of weight gain.
- Increases blood pressure and cholesterol to unhealthy levels, causing heart disease.
Chronic stress along with an elevation of cortisol levels can lead to mental disorders like depression, Bipolar disorder, and OCD. It also lowers life expectancy.
Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands which is a part of our fight-or-flight mechanism. It is what gives us adrenaline to react in life threatening situations. This is the definition of positive stress.
When the alarm goes off in the body to release cortisol, there has to be a physical release of fight or flight. If not, the cortisol levels in the body rise, building up in the blood, and causing problems to the mind and body.
Types of Stress
Albrecht’s four common types of stress are:
- Time stress-the worry of time or not having enough of it to get things done.
- Anticipatory stress-worried about the future. It could be a certain event or the unknown.
- Situational stress-being in a negative situation you have no control over. It could be an accident or being laid off from work.
- Encounter stress-a stress that comes from encountering people you don’t like dealing with. For those afraid of authority, encountering police officers would give them encounter stress.
The most common form of stress is acute stress which comes from day to day demands. This is why the workplace causes stress. Acute stress feels like excitement when it occurs in small doses. Too much makes you tired.
Acute stress is short-term so it doesn’t have the time to cause a lot of damage. It is often considered definition of positive stress because it can be a source of motivation. Acute stress is treatable and manageable.
Episodic Acute Stress
Episodic acute stress is when a person suffers from acute stress often. It’s usually from a life that is so out of balance, it is in constant chaos.
These people are always in a rush and always running late. They are busy but nothing gets done.
This creates a constant feeling of acute stress. Until the person gets their life under control, they will experience stress daily. The challenge is that with so much stress, cognitive function has already been affected and clarity is lost.
If stress is unrelenting and the person can’t find their way out of the situation, chronic stress occurs. It comes from trauma so someone with PTSD or those with childhood experiences that are repressed will experience chronic stress.
People will get used to chronic stress and forget it’s there. They don’t realize the health hazards of holding onto this uncomfortable feeling.
Chronic stress causes death from:
- Heart problems like stroke and heart attacks.
- Overdose from drug addiction used to numb the symptoms.
When stress gets to the level of chronic stress, it’s challenging to treat. Cognitive behavioral treatment and stress management is likely required.
Connection of Stress and Addiction
Many studies have linked stress and substance abuse together, leading to addiction. Chronic stress is a substance abuse risk factor. Furthermore, researchers believe stress changes the brain chemistry to support addiction.
Addiction can become a manifestation of how a person deals with psychological effects of stress. When a person deals with constant anxiety, their symptoms may become too much to handle.
Many people believe that drugs can relieve stress when in fact, studies show it affects the brain in the same way stress does. Stress treatment may become a part of addiction treatment when it’s found that a co-occurrence disorder exists.
Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety
Symptoms of stress and anxiety occur in all areas of the body so the stress systems list is vast.
Psychological Symptoms of Stress
- Feeling overwhelmed.
- Feeling lonely or isolated.
- Mental or emotional health issues related to stress.
Physical Symptoms of Stress
- Lack of energy.
- Psychological and distress.
- Anger, irritability, anxiety and depression.
- Tension headaches, back pain, ligament problems.
- Tension in the shoulders or back.
- Stomach pains from bowel problems like heartburn or constipation.
- Chronic tension headaches.
- Pain the chest.
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Low immunity so may experience colds and infections often.
- Lack of sex drive or physically incapable of having sex. This is one of the main stress symptoms in men.
Behavioral Symptoms of Stress
Behaviors can range from normal to excessive. If unattended, they can morph into a compulsive disorders, addiction, or clinical mood disorders.
- Over or undereating which can eventually lead to chronic eating disorders to maintain control of yourself.
- Constantly doing tasks over and over. This might include obsessively checking your email.
- Nail biting when you feel stress.
- Twisting your hair.
- Walking back and forth.
- Scratching an itch that isn’t really there.
- Repetitive actions.
- Extreme signs can be tics which represent a loss of motion control.
Here are 5 Types of Stress Management
1. Exercise as a Stress Treatment
Exercise effectively reduces the causes and effects of chronic stress. When you raise your heart rate level for at least 30 minutes a day, you stimulate new brains cells, countering the damage of past stress.
Even when you’ve just finished a workout, you can feel that the tension in your body has reduced. Neuroscience studies have found that your brain will regenerate itself when you do things that promote mind health. This can be done through exercise.
2. Meditation & Mindfulness
While meditation was once considered a spiritual endeavor, it is now being used in addiction therapy and mood disorder treatments. Through meditation, we can relax, come into ourselves and achieve mindfulness.
There have been 39 studies up to this point that have found effectiveness in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Studies done in the medical wing of Harvard found a close link between meditation and reducing symptoms of clinical mood disorders, including anxiety and stress.
When you master mindfulness, you can really experience how stress affects the body. You can become in control the stress in your life whether it’s acute anxiety or something you deal with daily.
3. Yoga to Reduce Cortisol Levels
Another holistic medicine for chronic stress is yoga. A study from the Indian Journal of Psychiatry was conducted to determine if yoga reduced cortisol levels. It was shown the reduce areas of stress that would produce a higher level of cortisol.
The yoga group in the study all experienced a drop in cortisol levels. Their HDRS score also fell which indicates symptoms of stress. This shows that with the drop of cortisol, it also improved depression.
It is believed that through yoga poses, you can release emotions that sit within the body. For example, stress sits in the groin and hips. When you do hip releaser poses, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes calmness. You also release the tension that sits in your hips.
Within the therapeutic model, there is the dealing of what damage has been done and then there’s the relearning behaviors. Recovery from stress turned to more serious afflictions requires examining yourself, usually with the help of a therapist.
Research has found that chronic stress, being among anxiety disorders, are driven by underlying problems within the individual. Anxious people will become easily overwhelmed and won’t be able to cope in stressful situations. This could be avoidance, alcohol abuse, or other behaviors that perpetuate the problem.
Psychologists teach you better ways to cope with your stress. A highly effective form of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. You learn how to identify with the factors that contribute to your chronic stress and learn how to manage it as well.
Once a patient really understands how their thoughts contribute to the anxious feelings they’re having, they can change their thought patterns. This has shown to reduce the intensity and frequency of stress and anxiety symptoms.
5. Anxiety Medications
If a person is experiencing intense feelings of anxiety that doesn’t allow them to work through other therapeutic means, anxiety medications can be administered.
This is usually only recommended if the person is overwhelmed due to a co-occurring disorder or experiencing tics. SSRI’s are considered to be the best medication to manage general anxiety that occurs from chronic stress.
It does take 4-6 weeks before it begins to work and should be tapered off as per your doctor’s advice after 12 weeks. SSRI’s are merely a short-term tool that can be used among the other holistic treatment and cognitive therapy.
The definition of good stress is our fight or flight response. It causes a series of events to occur that allow us to escape from deadly situations. An example might be running from a lion. The blood is all gathered to one spot that allows us to run faster than we normally could.
The world we live in today doesn’t usually entail immediate danger. The things we do perceive as dangerous are usually irrational. This keeps all the tension in the body.
Treatment of stress can help you recover from the chronic feelings you experience. You can become more relaxed which will help you manage your life with greater ease.