Stress Won’t Go Away? Maybe You Are Suffering from Chronic Stress

Some stress is positive. It causes our bodies to release adrenaline, which helps us accomplish assignments and projects, and can enhance our performance and problem-solving ability. But chronic stress, which is constant and lasts over a long period of time, can be debilitating and overwhelming. Chronic stress can affect both our physical and psychological well-being by causing a variety of problems including headaches, anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. We know that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.  The consequences of chronic stress are serious. Yet, many Americans who experience prolonged stress are not making the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce stress and ultimately prevent health problems. Fortunately, it is possible to manage and alleviate chronic stress.  Improving lifestyle and making better behavior choices are essential steps toward improving overall health.  Here are tips from the American Psychological Association Practice Organization to address chronic stress:  

Set limits. List all the projects and commitments that are making you feel overwhelmed.  Identify those tasks you feel you absolutely must do, and cut back on anything non-essential. For work-related projects, discuss a list of your responsibilities with co-workers and your supervisor and get their input on priorities and how best to tackle the projects.  For social and non-work related commitments, consider contacting the people you’ve made these commitments to and let them know that you cannot meet those obligations at this time. You also may ask for assistance in getting these tasks accomplished. Do not accept any more commitments until you feel your stress is under control.

Tap into your support system.  Reach out to a close friend or relative and let them know you are having a tough time and welcome their support and guidance; a shared burden is always lighter. Your friend or relative may have tackled similar challenges and have useful ideas and perspectives. There is no need to face difficulties alone. Support from family or friends may help you in taking better care of yourself.

Make one health-related commitment. Do what is possible to bolster your health so that you can have the energy and strength to manage challenges. One small step, like cutting back on your caffeine consumption, can have a positive effect. Studies show that without caffeine, people reported feeling more relaxed, less jittery, slept better, and had more energy and fewer muscle aches. Similarly, a brisk walk or other aerobic activity can increase your energy and concentration levels and lessen feelings of anxiety. Physical activity increases your body’s production of good-feeling endorphins, a type of neurotransmitter in the brain, and decreases the production of stress hormones. Taking positive steps for your health will help you manage your stress. 

Enhance your sleep quality. People who are chronically stressed often suffer from lack of adequate sleep and, in some cases, stress-induced insomnia. It is important to take steps to increase the quality of your sleep.  Experts recommend going to bed at a regular time each night, striving for at least 7-8 hours of sleep, and if possible, eliminating distractions, such as television and computers from your bedroom. Begin winding down an hour or two before you go to sleep and engage in calming activities such as listening to relaxing music, reading an enjoyable book, and taking a soothing bath. Avoid eating a heavy meal or engaging in intense exercise immediately before bedtime. If you tend to lie in bed and worry, write down your concerns well in advance of bedtime and then work on quieting your thoughts before lights-out. You can figure out how to address stressful issues in the morning, after a good night’s sleep.   

Strive for a positive outlook. Looking at situations more positively, seeing problems as opportunities and refuting negative thoughts are all important aspects of staying positive and minimizing your stress.  In some people, stress can be caused by attempts to handle things perfectly. Setting more realistic expectations and positively reframing the way you look at stressful situations can make life more manageable. It is important to keep challenges in perspective and do what you can reasonably do to move forward.

Seek additional help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed or are having trouble getting through your daily routine, seek consultation with a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to help you develop strategies to manage stress effectively and make behavioral changes to help improve your overall health.