Chronic Stress: Causes, Symptoms, And Know #9 Best Ways on How To Manage It

Jun 3, 20247 min
chronic stress - a lady with a gray hair placing her hand on head due to stress

Alisha is a 28-year-old living on her own in a metropolitan city. She is often found in a state of frenzy, bouncing from one task to another, constantly on the go. Like most adults, Alisha has to keep up with multiple things at once. Her never-ending task list includes work engagements, spending time with her loved ones, household chores, hobbies and interests, trying to stay healthy, and so on. 

No wonder Alisha often feels overwhelmed and tired – for most of us, a constant state of stress has become a part of our modern-day lives. At any given moment in time, we are juggling so much! Stress is a natural response to the challenges faced by us in day-to-day situations. 

Usually, once a challenging task is over, our body is able to return to its natural state after it has had some time to rest and repair. However, if you find that you are constantly stressed for long periods of time, and unable to catch a break, which is leading to a decline in your physical and mental health wellbeing, it may be a sign that you are suffering from chronic stress. 

What Is Chronic Stress? 

When faced with a task that feels too daunting, we experience stress – a complex bodily response that includes physiological and emotional reactions and raises the alarm to pay attention to the task at hand. 

Stress can be useful in moderation. For example, Alisha has been stressed about an upcoming job interview. She started to plan by updating her portfolio, refining her interview skills, and researching the organization. During the interview, she paid attention to the questions and answered in a way that highlighted her strengths and suitability for the role. After the interview was over, Alisha felt relieved and went to dinner with her friends to take a break. The stress period was acute, meaning, it lasted for a short duration of time, and Alisha had an opportunity to relax later.  

What happens when an individual is dealing with multiple stressors at once? For example, what if Alisha was in the middle of moving houses during the interview and had to juggle various things? We can safely assume that her stress levels would be higher. Now, what if, after the interview, she couldn’t go to the mall because her flatmate had fallen sick at the same time? She would likely have been unable to catch a break and her stress levels would have persisted. 

This state of constant stress for an extended period of time with no respite in between is what chronic stress is all about. Understandably, it can have adverse effects on our physical and mental health. In the next section, we talk about the biological mechanisms that cause chronic stress. 

What Causes Chronic Stress?

Whether or not an individual will feel stressed depends on their belief about whether they can deal with the problem at hand. Once an individual perceives a situation as potentially stressful, a chain of bodily reactions is set in motion. These are meant to help the body adapt to the stressor.

These chains of reactions usually occur in three stages: 

1.Alarm 

When the body detects a potential stressor, it starts getting ready to deal with it by activating the sympathetic nervous system. This initiates a cascade of physiological changes, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. It leads to a burst of energy to “fight” with the stressor and the problem at hand. 

For example, when Alisha knew that she had an interview coming, one of the ways she felt her anxiety was in the form of increased heart rate. It prompted her to get into the preparation mode so that she could perform well. 

2.Resistance 

Once a stressor has been identified, the body uses its resources to fight or resist it. For example, Alisha shows up diligently for her interview preparation. Usually, now, the panic caused by the alarm stage settles down and the intensity of stress starts to reduce. For Alisha, her confidence levels kept increasing as she continued preparing for her interview. 

3.Exhaustion 

Once the stressor is over, the parasympathetic nervous system gets activated to replenish bodily resources. It helps the body's systems to return to the baseline, rest, and repair to conserve energy. A person often feels tired and may need time to rest, reflect, and pursue pleasurable activities, like Alisha, who went to dinner with her friends after her interview was over. 

tiredness of a man on desk might hint a chronic stress

#9 Signs And Symptoms Of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can manifest in an array of physical and emotional symptoms, including, but not limited to: 

  1. Body aches and pains 
  2. A constant state of tiredness
  3. Difficulty sleeping well 
  4. Changes in appetite
  5. Heightened consumption of substances like caffeine, alcohol, or marijuana 
  6. Reduced motivation to complete tasks
  7. Difficulty with clear thinking and decision-making 
  8. Increased conflicts with others due to irritation, frustration, and anger
  9. Feeling a sense of overwhelm and doom about pending tasks

How To Manage Chronic Stress? Best #9 Ways to Manage Stress and Build Resilience Naturally

Generally speaking, taking preventative measures to take care of your physical and mental health wellbeing is the best way to manage chronic stress. It requires a holistic approach to health, which includes lifestyle changes, physical activities, and building an array of interpersonal skills. 

Here are some #9 tips to help develop a more mindful and balanced lifestyle: 

1.Identify Your Triggers: 

How do you know that you are stressed? What tasks and situations usually trigger a stress response for you? Paying attention to this is the first step in learning how to manage chronic stress. Once you have identified what makes you feel stressed, you can catch yourself in the moment, and consider new ways to respond to the stressful event instead of your usual ways.   

2.Build a Healthy Lifestyle: 

Adopting health-conscious behaviors like eating nutritious meals, getting good quality sleep, reducing caffeine intake, and avoiding substance use can lead to a significant reduction in chronic stress. By gradually integrating these practices into your routine, you can embark on a journey toward a healthier lifestyle. Try committing to one task that will improve your health, and gradually introduce more as you feel comfortable. Consistently taking small steps toward your health can yield significant results in the long run.

Explore the concept of eustress and its benefits to better understand how positive stress can enhance your chronic stress management strategies as part of building a healthy lifestyle.

healthy lifestyle and positive stress like eustress new relationship for positive stress

3.Get Exercise: 

Moving your body in a way that is accessible and joyful can immensely help in chronic stress reduction. Regular exercise can enhance mood through the release of "feel-good" hormones such as dopamine, while simultaneously decreasing stress by diminishing cortisol levels because its true that stress might cause you weight gain.

4.Learn Task Prioritizations: 

When multiple things demand our attention, it is important to discern which ones are most important at the time. It may be helpful to arrange the tasks in the order of importance, remove some altogether, and delegate the rest to others.    

5.Understand Your Limits: 

While it's tempting to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously, humans are limited by finite time and energy. Recognizing your limitations will help you understand the extent of responsibility you can take on and manage expectations accordingly. 

6.Prioritize Rest and Leisure:

Engaging in activities that bring us joy and ensuring quality rest helps us decompress and recover after a demanding day, effectively keeping chronic stress at bay. Consistently allowing ourselves uninterrupted downtime is crucial for our overall well-being.

7.Celebrate Your Wins:

 It is easy to get caught up in the never-ending stream of tasks. Taking a mindful moment to notice growth and celebrate small achievements can keep us motivated, increase our self-esteem, and give us a renewed sense of purpose. 

8.Learn Emotion Regulation Skills: 

Emotional regulation skills like mindfulness, deep breathing, and sensory grounding like 54321 and 3-3-3 rule can help us feel centered in a stressful situation. With practice, these skills help build the capacity to manage chronic stress and respond with intention. 

9.Build Social Support:

A supportive network of loved ones can be a great protection against stressful situations. Identify, build, and invest in healthy relationships! Our loved ones can help us manage the stressful task at hand, and offer advice, perspective, care, and connection in turbulent times.

When To Consult A Mental Health Professional For Chronic Stress?

If you are experiencing chronic stress for long periods with no relief, it can be helpful to consult a mental health professional. Chronic stress can have harmful effects on our physical and mental health, create challenges in our lives and daily functioning, and reduce the overall quality of life. 

Dealing with life’s challenges can be overwhelming and stressful and talking to a mental health professional helps a lot! If you are looking for mental health support check out Mave Health’s Therapy Club! We are India’s largest mental health platform, making good mental healthcare a priority. Find a professional on Mave Health who can meet your needs and help you start your mental health journey today. 

Conclusion  

Chronic stress has become an increasingly prevalent aspect of modern life. Understanding the causes and symptoms of chronic stress is crucial to effectively manage it.

An individual can learn to manage chronic stress by building a healthy lifestyle and learning tools to manage their daily tasks and overwhelming emotions. However, it's essential to acknowledge that chronic stress can take a toll on our body and mind, and reaching out for help is immensely helpful. If chronic stress is causing significant disruptions in your daily life, consider reaching out to a psychologist for guidance and support.

Citation

American Psychological Association (November 1, 2022). Stress won’t go away? Maybe you are suffering from chronic stress. Retrieved from 

Ciccarelli, S. K., White, J. N., Fritzley, V. H., & Harrigan, T. (2010). Psychology: an exploration. Upper Saddle River, NJ, USA: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Yale Medicine (n.d.). Chronic Stress. Retrieved from 

Author's Profile picture
Mave
Clinical Psychologist