[bigletter]Chronic stress negatively affects our health and well-being. It is the root cause of many illnesses, which make our daily lives miserable, and often culminates in an early death. So, how can we be so unaware of this insidious enemy that creeps into our beings and slowly ravages our healthy bodies?[/bigletter]
What is Stress?
To understand chronic stress, we must first understand a healthy stress reaction. Stress is the body’s response to a physical, mental, or spiritual threat. It doesn’t matter if the threat, also known as a stressor, is real or not. Your body reacts the same way whether someone points a gun at you, a child runs in front of your car, or you wake up in the middle of a nightmare.
When you feel threatened your body releases a rush of hormones, which prepare you to either fight the threat or to take a quick escape route.
- Your heart begins to pound
- Your face flushes and your blood pressure peaks
- Your arms and legs pulsate with strength and energy from the extra sugar dumped into your dilated blood vessels
You are suddenly imbued with super-human strength, and can carry a friend from a burning building or outrun a tsunami. However, within minutes of surviving the threat, your heart rate relaxes, and your blood sugar and blood pressure return to normal. Your stress reaction just saved your life.
But what happens when your body remains turbo-charged on high alert because the threat never goes away? Your abuser lives in your house, your child has a chronic illness, or your boss keeps expecting more. Your body never has the chance to recover; your blood pressure and sugar remain elevated. Then, slowly and often without recognition, chronic stress begins to ravage your body. You begin to make unhealthy life choices, satisfying inordinate cravings for sugar, cigarettes, alcohol, and shopping that provide instant gratification to calm fears and anxieties. Or your body’s immune system gives way and you acquire an immunocompromised illness such as lupus or psoriasis.
Chronic Stress Checker
Are you ready to do a self-check for chronic stress? Do you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself?
- Angry outbursts
- Constant worry, dread, and negativity
- Difficulty sleeping
- Headaches and memory loss
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- Panic attacks
- Real or imagined pain and/or fear
Impact of Chronic Stress
Some of us refuse to acknowledge our unhealthy relationship with stress while others are traumatized and unable to function. However, most of us just stagger along, in a state of emptiness, helplessness, and hopelessness.
Can You Turn Back the Clock?
We know that chronic stress is a gut-twisting, heart-stabbing, destructive force that ruins our health, tears our families apart, drains our finances and limits our life opportunities. But do we have to live with chronic stress? Intentional change can happen when we listen to our bodies by:
- Eating a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables
- Getting regular exercise
- Documenting our thoughts and feelings in a journal
- Meditating and praying
- Speaking with a trusted friend, counsellor, or pastor
Do you have the courage to examine the root cause of your stress? Are you willing to trade chaos for quietness?
I encourage you to take the time to sit quietly with a paper and pen, and prayerfully consider what changes you need to make in order to minimize or eradicate chronic stress from your life.
The time to start is NOW.
Alice Blackmore is a Registered Nurse. She has a Master’s in Nursing and owns her own freelance writing business, Insightful Nursing.
Medical News Today. (2020). Why Stress Happens and How to Manage it.
Medlineplus, 2021, Stress.
Seaward, Brian L. (2018). Managing Stress: Principles for Health and Well-Being, Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Yale Medicine. (2022). Chronic Stress.