The Physical and Mental Consequences of Chronic Stress
Category: Healthy Living
Posted on March 12, 2021
Vanessa is a health writer and blogging expert. Her specialities are medicine, health and wellness. She is proud to call Vancouver, BC her home where she enjoys the ocean and mountains with her dog Mr. ChowChow.
Did you know that around 33% of people say that they suffer from extreme stress? 77% of these people say that their stress affects their physical health, and 73% of these people report that stress has an impact on their mental health.
Stress can have an incredibly negative effect on people, and not just the people that suffer from it but the people around them as well.
Chronic stress can take a toll on your mental and physical wellbeing. Let's dive into what these consequences are and how to deal with them.
What Is Chronic Stress?
So you do you differentiate between everyday, normal stress and that which is termed, 'chronic stress'?
Everyday, normal stress is usually referred to as acute stress. Acute stress are the short-term stresses that we feel, for example, being stuck in traffic, a deadline looming at work, or a fight with our partner.
Chronic stress stems from acute stress, but the difference is that these things happen daily, over and over again and thus, acute stress turns into chronic stress.
For example, if you're in a toxic relationship, and the fights with your significant other happen on the daily, the stress of the fights then turns into a long-term thing that you suffer from.
Generally speaking, we are hardwired to be able to deal with acute stress and can bounce back from these short-term stresses pretty quickly. However, we're not made to suffer from chronic stress in the long run, and this is why our bodies and minds start to feel other effects.
What Are The Signs Of Chronic Stress?
As we now know, chronic stress can affect our entire body and our minds as well, over a longer period of time.
So what are the symptoms you should be looking for?
- irritability and mood swings
- fatigue and difficulty sleeping
- regular headaches and migraines
- inability to or difficulty concentrating
- rapid thoughts or disorganized thought patterns
- changes in appetite and digestive issues
- the feeling of loss of control and helpless
- lower self-esteem and low confidence levels
- loss of sex drive
- nervousness and anxiety
- falling ill frequently
If you're manifesting one or more of these symptoms, combined with stressful situations that arise regularly, then you're most likely suffering from chronic stress.
But, what effects can chronic stress have on you, your body, and your mind?
Consequences Of Chronic Stress
It goes without saying that if you're feeling constantly under pressure and you find that you can't handle your stress, eventually, you'll see consequences. These can be summed up as follows:
- Mental health problems
- Cardiovascular disease
- Obesity and other eating disorders
- Menstrual problems
- Sexual dysfunction
- Skin and hair problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Sleeping problems
- Muscle issues
That's a long list, right?
It's not likely that chronic stress will allow all of these problems to manifest at the same time, but you may find that over time, the consequences that you suffer from can change from one to another.
Each of these consequences has subcategories of its own, and the ailments you may suffer from within each one, let's have a look at these.
Mental Health Problems
The mental health problems that can stem from chronic stress can be depression, anxiety, and even personality disorders. These can come in the form of violent mood swings or extreme mood swings where you go from painfully happy to an extreme low in a manner of minutes.
Depression and anxiety may also be prevalent in your daily life, the need to not do anything, or not feeling up to it. Or simply feeling overwhelmed with tasks that wouldn't previously have bothered you.
The cardiovascular effects of chronic stress are serious ones. The consequences can be anything from heart disease to abnormal heart rhythms, to high blood pressure problems, heart attacks, and even strokes.
Monitoring the condition of these is vital to the overall wellbeing of your cardiovascular system, and how well it is coping with your chronic stress.
Obesity And Eating Problems
Chronic stress can cause issues with eating and appetite. You may find that your eating habits change over time and you begin to take on an unhealthier diet. This in turn means that your weight may fluctuate, and your clothes start to not fit you.
But the chronic stress spectrum can go either way, either you can pick up weight considerably and find that you're much larger than you used to be. Or, your appetite isn't there, and you begin to drop weight and find that your BMI drops to too low a level.
For women, chronic stress can really mess with their reproductive system and this means that their monthly cycle will change. You may find that your period starts to arrive later, or sometimes, not at all.
Women should monitor their menstrual cycle in order to pick up on significant changes.
Unfortunately, sexual dysfunction can affect both men and women who suffer from chronic stress. For men, you may see signs of impotence or premature ejaculation. While for both genders, a clearly identifiable loss in sexual desire and libido may become evident.
Hair And Skin Problems
It goes without saying that chronic stress can also affect smaller physical parts of our appearance, such as our hair and skin.
You may begin to suffer from hair loss that can become permanent if not treated soon enough in the process. Alternatively, it may be your skin that is affected by your chronic stress, and you begin to show signs of acne, eczema, or psoriasis.
Our gastrointestinal system is highly important to the overall wellbeing of our bodies. In people with chronic stress, the system is negatively affected and you may find yourself suffering from gastritis, ulcers, irritable colon, or GERD.
Changes in your digestive system are a surefire sign of chronic stress, if your system is no longer regular, your body will send you red flags.
For people who have chronic stress, sleep can become a real problem. It can come in the form of not being able to sleep and suffering from insomnia, or wanting to sleep too often and for too long a period.
For example, if you're showing signs of depression, then getting out of bed may seem too much for you, so your sleeping pattern is affected as you find yourself staying in bed for much longer periods.
However, other chronic stress sufferers may find themselves on the other end of the spectrum, where sleep doesn't come easily and they battle to fall asleep, or can't sleep at all.
Muscle Aches And Issues
Another physical sign of chronic stress is inexplicable muscle pain. This means that you may find that you're suffering from backache regularly, or that your muscles constantly feel tense.
The muscle issues can, in turn, also give way to tension headaches and even migraines, so not only is your body feeling tense and slightly painful, but your head starts to pound too.
How To Relieve Chronic Stress: Lifestyle Changes
We've gone through everything you need to know about identifying chronic stress, and what it can do to your mind and your body. But how do you deal with it? What can you do to relieve the consequences you may be suffering from?
There are many ways to relieve stress and truth be told, these aren't very different from making the decision to live a healthier lifestyle overall.
By doing simple things such as eating right, moderate exercise, and the active pursuit of relaxing or calming activities, you can alleviate some of the chronic stress symptoms you may be feeling.
But don't just jump right into a massive change in all aspects of your life. Making small adjustments, on a regular basis and building up to a lifestyle change will be more effective on your chronic stress levels, as we all know that change can induce stress.
Having said that though, sometimes simple lifestyle changes are not enough to help you find relief from your stress. Sometimes, it's easier done in groups with a friend or even family members, especially if they're aware of your chronic stress, they will most likely be willing to make changes with you and help to make the process a little easier. Having a social support system can help with managing your stress levels.
But, even this may not be enough to curb your chronic stress problems entirely. So what else can you do to help relieve chronic stress?
How To Relieve Chronic Stress: Other Avenues
There are other ways that you can use to relieve your chronic stress suffering and certain symptoms that you may be feeling more so than others.
These other avenues of stress relief will largely depend on the person, and the type of lifestyle they lead, and the decisions that they make.
These come in the form of medication. There are generally four different types that you can consider, here they are:
1. Sedative Medications
Sedative medications are used to slow down the activity in your central nervous system. They cause a sense of reduced anxiety, relaxation, less tension, and even sleepiness.
It must be said though that it is possible to overdose on sedative medications, so be sure to chat with your primary healthcare provider in order to understand the dosage you should be taking.
Xanax and Valium are the most commonly prescribed sedative drugs.
2. Buproprion (BuSpar)
BuSpar works in another way as opposed to sedative medication, it is used to treat the physical ailments that you may be feeling as a result of chronic stress.
Things like muscle tension, dizziness, and increased heart rates are treated with BuSpar. Although, this medication is typically prescribed as a short-term solution to chronic stress ailments, and not as a long-term fix.
However, BuSpar can take anywhere from 1 week to 3 weeks to start to take effect, and with a maximum prescription period of 4 weeks, it can be seen as a disadvantage.
3. Antidepressant Medications
Antidepressant medication is used primarily to treat depression and other similar conditions. They are known for having anti-anxiety properties as well, and can also be used to treat symptoms of stress.
One of the most common antidepressants (and that one which we hear in the movies) is Prozac but professionals also prescribe Paxil and Lexapro as alternatives.
Beta-blockers are used to control blood pressure and treat some heart problems that may occur as a result of chronic stress.
The beta-blockers themselves are used to decrease stress symptoms that affect the cardiovascular system and can aid in alleviating heart symptoms by widening arteries and helping to slow the actions of the heart.
Bonus: Nutritional Supplements
There are numerous nutritional supplements that can aid you in your fight against chronic stress too. Things such as chamomile, motherwort, and skullcap have all been reported to be used as common anxiety and stress remedies.
Most nutritional supplements are herbal in nature, as in they're not produced in a laboratory, but this doesn't mean that you shouldn't be careful with how much you take.
You'll want to do some reading on the side effects of taking any herbal remedies or nutritional supplements, as they can affect you negatively, particularly if taken in conjunction with other medications.
Managing Your Chronic Stress
Managing chronic stress is easier said than done, we know this. You'll need to know that the journey is not an overnight one, and it will seem overwhelming at first.
Ensure that you make daily changes that steer you towards a more relaxed, healthier lifestyle, and steer you away from situations that cause you to stress more. Don't be afraid to talk to the people in your life about what you're feeling and what you're going through, a support system can mean everything when it comes to dealing with chronic stress.
If your anxiety symptoms are taking over your life, don't leave without reading this article!