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.

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