Effects of Chronic Stress
In our less than ideal world, far too many of us are subject to chronic stress. Today our therapist Amanda offers a few tips to help with the causes and consequences of stress.
Busy lives, stressful jobs, kids, household duties, managing relationships etc. can really pile on the tension, especially at this time of year when we really feel the pressure to be super social, often eating and drinking a lot more than we normally would, and spending time with people that we might otherwise avoid (did I just say that out loud…??).
Yes I did. It often strikes me at this time of year how stressful it is for so many people!
However, even outwith the added busyness of the festive period, our bodies are under pretty consistent stress, and this becomes difficult for our systems to deal with over a period of time.
Our stress response, more commonly known as fight or flight is designed to deal with short bursts of acute stress i.e. running away from dangerous animals as we often needed to back in our caveman days. In these cases our sympathetic nervous system kicks in automatically, our heart rate increases, our bronchial passages widen, motility of the large intestine decreases, blood vessels constrict and blood pressure rises and we start sweating. A huge rush of stress hormones enter our system, releasing a huge rush of energy to enable us to either stand our ground or run away from danger.
When our system judges things safe again it should down regulate this response, at which point our parasympathetic or rest and digest response will help all the effects to dissipate and return us to normal function and relaxed awareness.
The effects of chronic ongoing stress can show themselves in many ways for example –
- Lack of sleep – stress affects our ability to switch off so even if you can get to sleep, the quality and depth of your sleep can be affected. So often it creates a vicious cycle with us reaching for coffee and sugary foods to keep us awake during the day, both of which in and of themselves stimulate the sympathetic nervous system adding to our stress.
- Less exercise – Often the busier we are, the less we make time for workouts and active breaks, so we don’t get the burst of endorphins that would normally help us manage things.
- Hormones – In women stress can affect the menstrual cycle, making it irregular or more symptomatic. In men chronic stress can affect sperm count.
- Skin problems – chronic stress means that skin is slower to heal, as under times of stress the body will direct resources towards internal organs rather than skin.
- Immunity – Research has shown that chronic stress lowers the immune system making us more prone to bugs and infections.
This is only a small selection of the effects of chronic stress, and I’m sure you can identify with a few!
As a therapist one of the biggest challenges can be educating clients out of the ‘fire fighting’ attitude towards health. We’ve all been there, when stress has been ongoing for far too long without being addressed and has really taken its toll; we feel exhausted, unwell and full of aches and pains.
So in 2018 why not start thinking in terms of ‘relaxation management’, instead of the all too often-used ‘stress management’?
The best way to do this is build your own self care routine in on an ongoing basis with therapies, yoga, exercise, good nutrition and whatever else works for you! Sometimes it can be as simple as a quiet five minutes to yourself!
In conclusion, please remember two of my favourite sayings – “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and “take care of your body it’s the only place you have to live”.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!