Living with a certain amount of stress in our lives is unavoidable. But it is imperative for us to realize that prolonged stress will almost certainly damage our mental or physical health in the long run.
The first step in combating stress is recognizing the signs, although it’s common for people suffering from stress to believe the state they are living in as normal as they have got used to living that way. Bringing in coping mechanisms is essential in the war against stress.
What Is Long Term Stress?
Long-term stress is a build up of problems over a sustained period. Prolonged stress can have a very damaging effect on your body and mind. Some obvious signs you should look for are:
Appetite loss or gain
Nervous behavior such as twitching or grinding the teeth
A loss of libido
Constantly feeling unwell
Lack of sleep
Tired all the time
The effect on mental health can be extreme and can easily lead to behavioural problems. Not thinking clearly can lead to far more serious issues like panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Other mood changes might be confusion, frustration, anger and depression. In short, long-term stress can become a serious threat to a person’s everyday life, as well as lead to sufferers becoming dependent on damaging support mechanisms like alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.
It’s not uncommon for minor fears to be exaggerated, such as the fear of small spaces or impending doom. It is normal to have concerns about things that are likely to cause you harm but once those fears become exaggerated irrational thinking can quickly follow.
The effect of stress on the mind is actually quite complex. Perception of an event, if exaggerated can cause over-reaction to it. To add to that, we all deal with stressful situations differently. An example would be giving in to fear and not taking action or tackling the situation head-on instead. It’s the same stress, but different reactions lead to different results. People who give in to stress can often become withdrawn and isolated, leading to depression and even more stress.
Stress can be like a roller coaster, taking us up to extreme highs and crashing us back down almost without warning. This too is unhealthy as it does not give the brain the ability to form continuity and our brain is hard-wired to look for patterns that make sense.
General Adaptation Syndrome
The term means Alarm, Resistance and recovery, but sometimes the word recovery can be replaced with exhaustion. The period of the alarm stage is where the body releases many different hormones into the bloodstream. It does this to prepare for fight or flight. This continues through each phase and then returns to the point of equilibrium. In other words, the recovery stage. If the body fails to recover, exhaustion sets in and this can quickly lead to a loss of some bodily or mental functions. A longer spell spent in this zone will lead to more severe illness.
Constant spells in the alarm stage can also damage the cardiovascular system, digestive system, and the immune system. Your heart rate can increase, and blood vessels can become damaged which can lead to higher blood pressure. Stress also causes the blood to thicken so there becomes an increased chance of blood clots. Furthermore, cholesterol builds up on major artery walls and can restrict blood flow to the heart.
Stomach problems can also occur through acute stress levels. Blood that would normally flow through the gastrointestinal system gets diverted to muscles when the fight or flight mechanism kicks in. This leads to the body producing less acid, and the whole digestive system slows down. If this is constant stress, then problems like ulcers are commonplace.
One of the biggest problems with long term stress is the effect it can have on the immune system. The hormones that your immune system naturally produce are there to protect you. Long-term stress limits the bodies ability to produce the correct amount, leaving you open to attack by disease.
Stress is a killer linked to heart disease, cancer, accidents on roads and in the workplace, liver cirrhosis and even suicide.
If you, or someone you know is experiencing stress, now is the time to take active measures to combat it immediately.