Have you ever felt so stressed out that it almost feels constant and never ending? Turns out there is actually a term for this and it is called “Chronic Stress”. Yale Medicine (2019) defines chronic stress as a consistent sense of feeling overwhelmed and pressured over a long period of time. We have all experienced acute stress, where we react to a single event and eventually recover, however chronic stress occurs when we are in a heightened state of alertness over time.
What is “The Stress Response”?
To understand chronic stress we need to briefly revisit what happens to the body under any form of stress. With a flashback to high school science, you may recall that stress is actually an involuntary physical and psychological response to any threatening situation. The sympathetic nervous system engages in the fight or flight response and fires hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol throughout the body. This response causes tensed up muscles, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, an increase in heart rate, and can even alter digestion immediately.
So where does chronic stress come from?
Chronic stress can result from a variety of ongoing stressors in your life. This can look different for each individual, the only common factor is that you perceive a situation as highly threatening over a long period of time. I will list some possible stressors below:
- High-pressure jobs/demanding workplaces
- Family conflict and challenging relationships
- Financial difficulties
- Chronic health problems
- Major life changes
- Exposure to stressful environments
- Ongoing anxiety/mental health problems
Of course this list is not exhaustive and there are a variety of reasons you or a loved one could be experiencing chronic stress. Unfortunately, this state of chronic stress can be very detrimental both physically and psychologically to all of us. If your body continues to perceive ongoing threats, the stress response will stay activated and the large amounts of cortisol can lead to some serious health challenges.
What are the symptoms of chronic stress?
Although the severity and type of symptoms an individual may have can vary, the following list consists of the most common symptoms seen in people with chronic stress:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Extreme irritability
- Digestive problems
- Troubles sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling helpless and overwhelmed
- Loss of sexual desire
- Low self esteem
- Rapid, disorganised thoughts
Treatment for chronic stress
If you are reading this and think you might fall into the chronically stressed category—don’t worry! There are a variety of strategies you can employ to reduce your overall stress. Let’s look at a few:
- Mindfulness: Using mindfulness meditation you can practice deep breathing and become completely aware of your body and surroundings. Research suggests that mindfulness is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, stress, and even depression (Goyal et al., 2014).
- Sleep: Poor sleep quality is a key factor that can contribute to how you perceive stress. Research suggests we should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep at night, where setting regular sleep and wake times can vastly improve sleep quality (Watson et al., 2015). You should also avoid caffeine, intense physical activity, and screen usage right before bed.
- Exercise: Physical activity releases mood boosting endorphins, which leads to significantly lower stress levels. Exercise looks different for everyone and it doesn’t have to be in a gym! Getting outdoors and simply walking is a great way to reduce your stress and reconnect with nature!
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of counselling that entails modifying and restructuring your behaviours, thoughts, and feelings. This style of therapy can give you the tools you need to combat the mental effects of stress all on your own!
How can we help?
At Skylark clinic, we understand that sometimes the above strategies aren’t always effective and that lingering feeling of chronic stress can leave you struggling with your mental health. We are here to help! We offer a wide variety of experienced counsellors that can help you manage your stress and reduce all the negative symptoms that come with it. Whether you want an empathetic listener or structured therapeutic techniques, our counsellors are here to support you in your mental health journey.
Resources we Recommend for Chronic Stress:
- Canadian Bar Association – Coping with Stress and Avoiding Burnout: Techniques for Lawyers (cba.org)
- Job burnout: How to spot it and take action – Mayo Clinic
- Stress Strategies
- Coping With Stress, Anxiety, And Substance Use During Covid-19 [infographic] | Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (ccsa.ca)
- Resources – Anxiety Canada
- Elizabeth Scott, P. D. (2020, December 7). Management techniques are important
- if you have chronic stress. Verywell Mind. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from
- Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M. S., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Berger, Z., Sleicher, D., Maron, D. D., Shihab, H. M., Ranasinghe, P. D., Linn, S., Saha, S., Bass, E. B., & Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2014). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
- MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Chronic stress: Symptoms, examples, effects, and recovery. Medical News Today. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323324
- Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., Dinges, D. F., Gangwisch, J., Grandner, M. A., Kushida, C., Malhotra, R. K., Martin, J. L., Patel, S. R., Quan, S., & Tasali, E. (2015). Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. SLEEP. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4716
- Yale Medicine. (2019, November 15). Chronic stress. Yale Medicine. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder