Long-term, or chronic, stress can cause physical problems such as heart problems, high blood pressure, skin problems, increased susceptibility to infection and can lead to diabetes. When we face stressors in our life, our fight or flight reaction is activated. This is a normal reaction to any physical or psychological threat and causes your heart to beat faster, your muscles tense and you become intensely aware of your surroundings; every disturbance is treated as a threat to your safety and your body tenses and readies you for action. Normally, once the threat has subsided, our fight or flight reaction is deactivated and our body returns to normal. In situations where are faced with chronic stress one of two things occurs - your fight or flight reaction remains heightened or if continually activates and deactivates.
Both situations cause enormous strain on your organs and emotional health. The more often, or longer, the fight or flight reaction activates, the more physical and emotional damage. You can develop a stress related illness, such as heart disease, or can develop an anxiety disorder. Recognizing how you react to stress can help. The following are some of the common ways your body might react to a stressful situation.
- Change of appetite; eating excessively or loss of appetite
- Change in sleep habits; sleeping more than normal or insomnia
- Feeling confused, unable to make decisions
- Heart racing
- Shortness of breath
- Muscles tight, especially in the neck and arms
- Clenched fists
- Nervous behaviors, such as twitching, biting your nails, pacing
- Neglecting important things in your life, such as work, school or family
- Constant worrying or irrational fears
- Stomach aches or other digestive problems
Noticing when your body becomes tense can help you identify why and when the stress is happening. Think about what is going on in your life and what may be causing the stress. Are you having problems at work? In your relationships? Physical health? Or are you creating your own stress, trying to live up to impossible standards you have set for yourself?
Once you have identified the causes for your ongoing stress, decide which stressors can be changed and which cannot. For example, if you are experiencing health problems and have recently been given a diagnosis, you can't change the diagnosis, but you can make changes in your lifestyle to help improve your health. You may not be able to fix your relationship problems, but you can change how you view these problems. Focus on those stressors in your life that can be changed, even if it is a change of how you view the problem. If you have trouble doing this, talking with a therapist can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps to change your thought process so you can view a problem in a different way.
Finally, make sure you take care of yourself and take a break from the daily stress. The following are some tips to help:
Find time each day to focus on an activity you enjoy. This can be knitting, gardening, spending time with your children or spouse, reading or taking a relaxing bath. If you can't find even a half and hour a day to focus on you, then you are overbooking yourself, which is adding to your stress.
Look over your schedule and see what you can cut out. Say "no" to further commitments until you have managed to schedule time for yourself. In the future, don't accept commitments that will interfere with "you" time.
Plan your day leaving time in between each activity. This will help you not feel rushed and overwhelmed.
Plan something fun each week. Use your weekends to plan something you want to do. This helps give you something to look forward to each day and helps reduce stress.
For more ideas on understanding and reducing stress:
Acute Stress vs. Chronic Stress
Healing Hobbies to Reduce Stress
Seven Tips to Help Overcome Stress & Anxiety
Stress Busters: 10 Tips to Control Your Negative Emotions
Tips for Saying "No"
The Physical Effects of Long Term Stress, 2007, Jane Collingwood, PsychCentral.com
Understanding Stress, 2011, June, Melinda Smith, Robert Segal, Jeanne Segal, Helpguide.org
Published On: August 15, 2011