5 Signs The Stress You’re Facing Is Not ‘Normal’ Stress

From nerves about a final exam to wedding day jitters, stress is a part of life. But all stress is not created equal.

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

For example, good stress can give us energy before a 5K run or make us feel better during a work presentation. This normal stress can be sudden or something you plan for, but either way, know that it’s relatively short-lived and you can recover from it, says Sheehan Fisher, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Northwestern University. Feinberg School of Medicine.

On the other hand, chronic stress lasts longer and has no definite end. And chronic stress can take a toll on you, both physically and mentally.

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

Examples of chronic stressors are extensive, but often they may be an unavoidable aspect of your life. For example, losing your glasses is a minor stressor that can be resolved by visiting the eye doctor, but some of the issues that lead to chronic stress are medical conditions, poverty and living in a crowded place. of traffic may be unavoidable, Collins – explained Facteau.

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

For people in marginalized groups, discrimination and microaggressions are (unfortunately) the way of the world you’ll experience throughout your life, Fisher says, but that doesn’t ignore the long-term effects of this kind of chronic stress. . Marginalized people know that they are always at risk of discrimination or prejudice, so even if actual instances of discrimination do not occur every day, this constant threat is still there. Possible happen, he explained.

Below, therapists share what health issues to watch out for if you’re experiencing chronic stress, as well as steps you can take to keep your bad stress under control:

1. Thoughts that may disturb sleep

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

What people often experience is that they have trouble adjusting their mind and body, Collins-Facteau says, which leads to people having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Think about it: If your chronic stressor is an inability to pay off a pile of debt, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it when it’s time to go to bed. If anything, anxious thoughts may creep in as you try to settle down to sleep because there are fewer distractions to take your mind off the stressor.

2. Muscle tension

Muscle tension is an adaptive response of our body, says Collins-Facteau. This is our body’s way of protecting against disease and injury.

Being in a chronic state of stress leads the muscles to maintain that tension, he says. It can cause aches and pains, especially in the neck, shoulders and back, in addition to headaches and migraines.

3. Gastrointestinal issues

People dealing with chronic stress may feel like they have a knot in their stomach and may develop gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome, Fisher says.

That’s because of a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the stomach when you’re dealing with stress, according to Collins-Facteau. 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 of the big ways in which chronic stress can appear.

Research shows that environmental stressors such as poverty can contribute to depression. Additionally, other forms of chronic stress, such as cancer or heart disease, are also associated with increased rates of mental disorders.

5. Heart problems

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

A major risk is that chronic stress can lead to issues like high blood pressure and heart disease, he said, making it very important to manage your stress as much as possible.

Stress can create inflammation, which can lead to lower levels of good cholesterol and high blood pressure, both of which can have adverse effects on your heart, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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

Dealing with chronic stress is difficult, but there are several ways to deal with it.

The first step is learning to determine what causes stress and recognizing that as an opportunity to make changes, Collins-Facteau said.

This does not mean that you will immediately eliminate the issue that is creating chronic stress, as this is often not an option. Rather, it means adjusting your lifestyle to better manage stress.

Different people need different things to help keep their stress levels under control, Fisher said. You may need to relax on the couch to give your body a physical break, or you may find that you need to work off some energy by going for a run or playing basketball.

Managing your stress can also mean making sure you have a balanced breakfast before going to your high-stress job or maintaining your support system, Collins-Facteau suggests.

Practices like mindfulness and meditation can also help you understand what your body needs to deal with chronic stressors, Fisher said, whether it’s more relaxation, a walk in nature or time with the friends.

Finally, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. If you feel like you need more support, you can reach out to a mental health professional who’s trained to guide you through it, Fisher insists. If you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic stress that interfere with your daily functioning, it’s important to get support sooner rather than later.

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