Long-Term (Chronic) Stress

Chronic stress differs from acute stress as it builds slowly over the long-term and is often ignored, especially in caregivers. They can’t seem to find the time to take care of themselves because they’re putting loved ones first. Visualize it this way:

Imagine that it’s a beautiful day at the beach. The water is inviting, and you venture out a bit farther. Small waves wash over you as you relish your time in the water and sun. You’re jostled a bit, but not enough to cause concern. Now imagine the waves becoming larger and stronger. It takes much more strength to swim in these conditions and you begin to tire. Soon the waves come faster. You’ve barely made it through one before another comes and envelops you. It’s difficult now to stay your course and you find that you barely have time to catch a breath. As you tire and become weaker, you feel yourself being pulled under. Now you’re in serious trouble and need help.

This is how it is with chronic stress. Our levels of adrenaline and cortisol do not have time to return to normal levels. Since cortisol is slower to diminish, it easily builds to a high and dangerous level as the waves of these hormones keep coming. As a caregiver, you can find yourself in trouble before you realize it.

Symptoms of Chronic Stress

So what are the warning signs? Let’s look at some common symptoms of chronic stress:

  • Headaches (more frequent or more severe than normal)
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased heart rate or pounding heart (palpitations)
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Digestive problems
  • Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep)
  • Weird or disturbing dreams
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Decreased libido
  • Impotence
  • Change in menstrual cycle
  • Increased accidents
  • Frequent sighing
  • Overall feeling of sadness
  • Easily brought to tears
  • Premature graying and/or hair loss
  • Skin disorders (rash, acne, hives)
  • Increased anger
  • Abdominal pain or nausea
  • Frequent colds or infections
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep walking/talking
  • Forgetfulness
  • Chest pain
  • Exacerbated symptoms of an illness (arthritis, MS, for example)
  • Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw
  • Twitches
  • Fearfulness
  • Constant fatigue

Print this out so you can highlight or place a check mark next to all that apply to you. If the symptoms persist or worsen, or if they already affect your quality of life, make an appointment with your physician, and take your list of symptoms with you. 

The symptoms listed above are red flags warning you there is danger ahead regarding your health.  Review the consequences below and I think you’ll agree that chronic stress should not be ignored:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Suppressed immunity
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Stroke
  • Migraines
  • Osteoporosis
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Tremors
  • Ulcers
  • Weight gain (abdominal fat or rounded face)
  • Tics
  • Shortened life span

The good news is there are many ways to manage stress.  This doesn’t mean you can skip your annual physical or ignore symptoms, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence.  The next post under this category will discuss ways to alleviate your stress. When you feel better, so will those around you.


Thank you for visiting this website. If you found this post useful, please “Like”  “Share” or “Comment” below. To be notified of future posts, please “Subscribe” in the right-hand column.

Short-Term (Acute) Stress

Have you ever heard someone say, “I never felt so alive!” in response to a dangerous or intense situation? This is because short-term (acute) stress heightens awareness, fine tunes our senses, enables clearer thinking, and promotes faster decision-making. One might even feel a sense of euphoria. Think of extreme sports and the “high”  participants experience.   Adrenaline quickly courses through the body preparing for a fight or flight response. When the situation resolves itself, the adrenaline will rapidly diminish.  No harm done.

Some examples of what may cause acute stress in our day-to-day lives would be:

  • Root Canal
  • Medical Procedure
  • Performance Evaluation
  • Test
  • Major Purchase
  • Argument

Symptoms of Acute Stress may include one or any combination of those listed below:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Sweating          
  • Dizziness                    
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Headache                   
  • Palpitations
  • Indigestion 
  • Numbness                  
  • Detachment        
  • Temporary Paralysis   
  • Temporary Blindness  

Let me share with you a personal experience to demonstrate the body’s response to acute stress. My husband and I needed to make a trip from Colorado to Illinois for a funeral in 1977.  Due to my husband’s disability, I did all the driving. We made the trip there without problems. However on the way back to Colorado we encountered blizzard conditions near Omaha, NE. The exit signs were not visible through the blowing snow and I couldn’t see the lane markings. It was evening rush hour and traffic was heavy. I felt trapped between the cars, unable to see clearly, feeling lost, and wanting nothing more than to find a motel.

My hands tightened on the steering wheel in a death grip. I was so fearful of being in an accident, my heart started pounding, my breathing became fast and shallow, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I don’t think I even blinked as I searched desperately for an exit while trying to stay within my ‘invisible’ lane. Finally, by the grace of God, I managed to pull off the highway and found a motel.

As I exited the vehicle, I was startled to find I couldn’t feel the ground beneath my feet. In fact, I couldn’t feel anything! I touched my face and lips ̶ totally numb! I had never experienced anything like that before. I wasn’t numb from the cold; I was numb from the extreme stress of the moment. My blood pressure must  have been sky high as well. The stress hormones in that acute state had caused my symptoms. 

After a good night’s sleep, much to my relief, the numbness disappeared. The storm had ended and we made it slowly, but safely, back home. As frightening as the symptoms were, that rush of adrenaline prepared me for the immediate dangers of driving in a blizzard.  Did I feel euphoria? No, but let me tell you it was the best night’s sleep I ever had, and I felt great in the morning.

As a family caregiver, what gets your adrenaline pumping? I’m sure you can think of many things: a medical emergency, dealing with uncooperative behavior, or a fall in the tub, to name a few. We normally recover from this type of stress fairly quickly with no long-term damage to our mental or physical health. The rise and fall of our cortisol level would happen more slowly. Unfortunately, the continuous stress of being a family caregiver doesn’t give our stress hormones a chance to return to normal levels, and this is where we run into trouble.

I’ll cover the effects of long-term (chronic) stress in a future post.  As you learn to understand the differences, you’ll be better able to recognize the stress in your life and find ways to handle it.


If you found this post helpful, please ‘like’ or ‘share’ below, and if you have questions or suggestions, please write it in the comment section..

The Stress Hormones: Adrenaline & Cortisol

Stress hormones play an important role in survival.   Not all stress is bad, as discussed in another post.  However, long-term consequences of chronic stress can result in debilitating and life-threatening illnesses.   For this reason, all the topics in this website are directly or indirectly related to stress management.

One way to start reducing stress is to gain an understanding of how our bodies respond to it.  Here’s a brief summary of how stress hormones work.

Adrenaline spikes quickly and enables us to gain more strength, energy, and a higher level of alertness.  It also dissipates more quickly than cortisol.  It’s sometimes referred to as the “Fight or Flight” response.

A surge of adrenaline results in the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils (all the better to see you with, my dear…),
  • Expanded airways to the lungs
  • Increased delivery of blood and oxygen to muscles
  • Increased metabolism

Cortisol builds more slowly and is longer lasting than adrenaline, so its effects can cause significant changes in your body over the long term. Cortisol’s primary purpose is to break down body tissues to be used as an energy source.

This is what happens in your body as cortisol levels increase:

  • Suppressed insulin production to allow higher glucose levels for energy
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Increased metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
  • Decreased bone formation

Note:  Sleep deprivation, caffeine, and alcohol may increase cortisol levels.


Future  posts under this category will focus on the detrimental effects of long-term stress.  I can’t emphasize enough how extremely important this will be for you to know. Once you gain more knowledge in this area, you’ll understand my purpose for all the other categories on this website.   They’re all meant to help you in ways that will reduce your stress, avoid stress-related illnesses, and ultimately promote your well-being.


If you found this post helpful, please click “Like” below and/or “Share” 

Not All Stress is Bad


DEFINITION OF STRESS:

A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.  ~ English Oxford Dictionary


Do you think family caregiving is a candidate for causing stress?  Most definitely!  However, do you know that not all stress is bad?  It’s important to recognize the difference, and this post will address acute stress.  By this I’m referring to short-term stress, as opposed to long-term (chronic) stress which can be detrimental to your health.

To be more specific, here are a few examples of common activities that might trigger short-term stress.

A Looming Deadline

Family Emergency

Tornado Warning

Lost Engagement Ring

First Day on the Job

Relocation

You get the idea.  I’m not talking about catastrophic events that could cause a heart attack,  just day to day events that are stressful, but pass.  I’m sure you can think of many caregiver related stresses that are short-term (refusing to bathe, won’t get out of bed, temper tantrum, won’t eat, etc.).

You’ve no doubt heard about the Fight or Flight response.  This is what happens with acute stress when facing an immediate danger.  Now how can that be good?  It’s a natural survival instinct.  The immediate benefits include:  heightened awareness, clearer thinking, faster decision making, increased strength, and a fine-tuning of our senses.  All good.

Short-term stress that does not involve immediate survival instincts may have the following benefits:  improved memory, ability to set and complete goals, enhanced immunity, and increased life span.  Also good.

SYMPTOMS OF ACUTE STRESS MAY INCLUDE:

Abdominal Pain   (this could also include vomiting and/or diarrhea) 

Sweating  (cold sweats, feeling clammy)

Dizziness  (can also lead to nausea)

Rapid Breathing  (could result in fainting)

Headache  (usually disappears when the stress is resolved)

Palpitations  (pounding heart)

Numbness  (an extreme response to acute stress)

Detachment  (extreme form would be an out of body experience)

Temporary Paralysis (frozen in place, speechless, unable to think)

Temporary Blindness (frightening, but usually fleeting)

Neck/Chest Pain (could also be a sign of heart attack, especially if in conjunction with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, and it should not be ignored)

Indigestion (burning or heavy pain in upper chest, belching, bitter taste, regurgitation)

Okay — good to know, but now what?  Once the immediate symptoms start to subside, it’s best to take that first step toward resolution.  This will start the momentum of action which in turn lowers the stress level.

Let’s look at Performance Evaluation as an example.  Perhaps you haven’t had a very good year with the company, and now your worrying and fretting over it.  Your first step will be to determine what mistakes or disciplinary actions might be discussed.  Plan to admit the error, explain what valuable lesson you learned from it, and discuss what measures you’re taking to prevent it from happening again.  Once you have a dialogue worked out in your head, you’ll feel more prepared and confident.  This will be a big plus during your meeting.

I find it best (for me, anyway) to role play something in my mind, always preparing for the worst case scenario.  This avoids being blind-sided and you’ll have the confidence to handle whatever comes your way.

Visit the post on “The Stress Hormones: Adrenaline & Cortisol” to learn how they prepare your body for response to danger.

Note:  I’ll discuss more about stress hormones and the seriousness of chronic stress in an upcoming post.


If you found this post helpful, please click “Like” below and/or “Share”