Chronic Stress

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Chronic Stress

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 12 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

March 17, 2023 / Read Time 4 minutes

What is Chronic Stress?

Chronic stress is a biological response to demanding situations. Chronic stress refers to enduring stress over a long period of time after the stressful trigger or perceived stressful trigger is gone. 

Acute stress is stress that comes and goes quickly, while chronic stress lasts a long time, meaning days, months, or even years. 

Your body has a natural stress response which dissipates after the initial threat is coded as a non-threat or the threat has been removed from your environment. 

Normally when you encounter a threat, actual or perceived, a part of your brain begins to send signals that set off certain alarms in your body. These alarms include increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and a release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. 

This process makes you more alert and ready to “fight or flight.” The “fight or flight” response is activated in the area of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for communicating to the rest of the body through the nervous system.

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone which increases glucose (sugars) into your bloodstream to provide readily available energy if needed. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies so that you have the tools to fight off the threat or run. 

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Chronic Stress Causes 

Chronic stress is caused by genetics, life experiences, and coping mechanisms. Some people are born more prone to stress and feeling more deeply related to stressful situations, outcomes, or triggers. 

Certain genes control your mood, emotions, and the involvement of the fight-or-flight mechanism, all of which contribute to chronic stress. Genetics can make someone predisposed to overreact or underreact to stress responses.

Life experiences can cause chronic stress. Children who experience abuse or neglect are more often prone to chronic stress and poor coping mechanisms. Those who have experienced traumatic events, such as violent crimes or natural disasters, are particularly vulnerable to chronic stress. 

Professions such as military personnel, police, firefighters, and first responders are also more vulnerable to chronic stress because they are exposed to stressful situations on a daily basis. 

The combination of genetics and life experiences can affect coping mechanisms for those who experience stress. Developing coping mechanisms is so important to reduce the risk of damage caused by long term cortisol surges.

This response is secured in our evolutionary beginnings when we lived a more predatorial and dangerous life outdoors. However, our ancestral brain does not always align with the modern world. We are no longer running from predators or spending all day hunting and gathering our food. Chronic stress in modern times may be from the overreaction of stress areas of the brain that once suited us and the preservation of our species.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. Cortisol alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes which is why long-term stress is detrimental to the body and mind. 

During stress episodes, this complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation, and fear - all factors which contribute to overall health and wellness. 

Chronic stressful episodes can lead to physical and mental illnesses.

Chronic Stress Symptoms

Stress is a biological response to demanding situations. Stress causes the body to release hormones that can do damage if released often. Over time, chronic stress causes symptoms to appear. Chronic stress over time causes damage which can be seen through physical and emotional outlets. 

The signs and symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Digestive problems

  • Headaches

  • Heart disease

  • Sleep problems

  • Weight gain

  • Memory and concentration impairment

  • Fatigue

  • Low-self esteem

Chronic stress can cause health consequences and should be taken seriously. 

Chronic stress can contribute to the development of a range of physical and mental disorders including:

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • A weakened immune system

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Gastrointestinal disorders

  • Skin irritation

  • Respiratory infections

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Insomnia

  • Burnout

  • Depression

  • Anxiety Disorders

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Schizophrenia

With the risk of several physical and mental illnesses from chronic stress, it is important to manage stress on a daily basis.

How to Deal with Chronic Stress

Understanding stressful triggers, having coping techniques to deal with stressful environments, and using behavioral techniques are all ways to overcome stressful thoughts. Dealing with chronic stress takes dedication, patience, and practice.

Triggers are often external but can often be internal. External triggers may include a busy environment like a party or crowd, loud noises, being around people who elevate your stress levels, financial troubles, home or work responsibilities, and certain objects that evoke fear. Internal triggers can be feelings or distressing emotions like anxiety and depression. Coping with chronic stress is ultimately identifying triggers and understanding how to navigate them in a healthy way.

Our licensed therapists can help you find coping mechanisms to deal with stress.

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Chronic Stress Treatment

Chronic stress treatment includes stress management, behavioral treatment and medications. 

Some stress management techniques include:

  • Eating a healthy diet

  • Getting regular exercise

  • Getting high quality sleep

  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as trying yoga, practicing deep breathing, getting a massage or learning to meditate

  • Taking time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

  • Fostering healthy friendships and relationships 

  • Volunteering in your community

  • Seeking professional counseling when needed

Underlying conditions can also be treated with prescription medications. Doctors can prescribe medications to help with anxiety and depression which may make symptoms of chronic stress worse. 

If you have anxiety or depression, prescription medications are available to treat them. You can get prescription medication online by speaking with a certified online doctor. 

Prescription medications for chronic stress require a doctor visit and so you must have a consultation with a doctor before you can get prescription medications. 

At PlushCare, a doctor can perform an evaluation, diagnosis, and prescribe medication if needed. At your appointment, you and your doctor will decide if prescription medication is right for you. Our therapists can also help you find coping mechanisms to deal with stress. It is easy and convenient to get help with chronic stress online! Book an appointment with a licensed therapist or board-certified doctor online today.

Read More About Stress and Mental Health


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