5 signs that the stress you’re dealing with isn’t “normal” stress

Stress is a part of life, from final exam nerves to wedding day nerves. But not all stress is created equal.

Simply put, there’s good stress, or eustress… and bad stress, which is anxiety, said Danyelle Collins-Facteau, a licensed professional counselor at Thriveworks in Virginia Beach. We know that stress is impossible to avoid in the world we live in, and small doses of good stress can be really motivating.

For example, good stress can give us energy before a 5K run or make us perform better during a work presentation. This normal stress can be sudden or something you plan for, but either way, you know it’s relatively brief and you can recover from it, said Sheehan Fisher, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School. medical.

On the other hand, chronic stress is long-lasting and has no final end. And chronic stress can take a huge toll on you, both physically and mentally.

It is important to remember that our body is well equipped to withstand stress in small doses. However, its long-term or chronic stress can seriously affect the body, and no body system is immune, Collins-Facteau said.

Examples of chronic stressors are far-reaching, but often they can be an unavoidable part of your life. For example, losing your glasses is a minor stressor that can probably be fixed by seeing an eye doctor, but some problems that lead to chronic stress, such as illness, poverty and living in a high-traffic area, may be unavoidable, Collins-Facteau explained.

The bias faced by marginalized communities is another example of this. Racial discrimination, sexism and homophobia can all be common chronic stressors, Fisher said.

For people in marginalized groups, discrimination and microaggressions are (unfortunately) the way of the world you’ve had it your whole life, Fisher said, but that doesn’t negate the long-term impact of this type of chronic stress. Marginalized people know that they are always at risk of discrimination or bias, so even if actual incidents of discrimination do not happen every day, there is a constant threat that it butter happen, he explained.

Below, the therapists tell you what health problems you should consider if you experience chronic stress, as well as measures you can take to keep your bad stress under control:

1. Rumination, which can disturb sleep

Studies show that chronic stress can lead to insomnia, poor sleep quality, and more.

People often find that they have trouble settling their mind and body, Collins-Facteau said, which leads to people having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Think about it: If your chronic stressor is not being able to pay off the debt you’ve piled up, you just can’t stop thinking about it when it’s time to go to bed. If anything, anxious thoughts can creep in when you’re trying to fall asleep because there are fewer distractions to keep your mind off stressors.

2. Muscle tension

Muscle tension is our body’s adaptive response, Collins-Facteau said. It is our body’s way of protecting itself against pain and injury.

Being in a chronic state of stress causes the muscles to maintain tension, he said. This can cause aches and pains, especially in the neck, shoulders and back, in addition to tension headaches and migraines.

3. Digestive tract problems

People with chronic stress may feel like they have a knot in their stomach and may even develop gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Fisher said.

According to Collins-Facteau, this is due to a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the stomach when you’re dealing with stress. Inflammation, cramping, and disruption of gut bacteria are other ways chronic stress can affect your digestive system.

4. Anxiety and depression

It may go without saying that anxiety and depression are two major ways that chronic stress can manifest itself.

Research shows that environmental factors such as poverty can contribute to depression. In addition, other forms of chronic stress, such as cancer or heart disease, are also linked to an increase in mental health disorders.

5. Heart problems

You’ve probably heard that stress kills, right? Collins-Facteau said.

One big risk is that chronic stress can lead to problems like high blood pressure and heart disease, he said, which is why it’s so important to manage your stress as best you can.

Stress can cause inflammation, which can lead to a drop in good cholesterol and high blood pressure, both of which can have harmful effects on your heart, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Additionally, the American Heart Association notes that good sleep is an important way to maintain or improve your heart health, and as mentioned above, chronic stress disrupts rest and creates a vicious cycle.

Dealing with chronic stress is challenging, but there are some ways to deal with it.

The first step is to learn to recognize what’s causing the stress and recognize it as an opportunity to make changes, Collins-Facteau said.

This does not mean that you will immediately eliminate the problem that is causing chronic stress, because that is often not an option. Instead, it means adjusting your lifestyle to better manage stress.

Different people need different things to keep their stress levels in check, Fisher noted. You may need to relax on the couch to give your body a physical break, or you may find that you need to energize yourself by going for a run or playing basketball.

Managing stress can also mean having a balanced breakfast before heading into a stressful job or maintaining your support system, Collins-Facteau suggested.

Practices like mindfulness and meditation can also help you understand what your body needs to deal with a chronic stressor, Fisher noted, whether it’s relaxation, nature walks or hanging out with friends.

Finally, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. If you feel you need additional support, you can contact a mental health professional who is trained to guide you through this, Fisher emphasized. If you have symptoms of chronic stress that interfere with your daily activities, it is important to get support sooner rather than later.

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