Chronic stress is a response to prolonged periods of emotional pressure. It creates a sense that the individual has no control over his or her life. If this continues for a long time, it can cause damage to an individual’s physical and mental health. The things that cause stress are called stressors. Stressors can come in the form of man-made and natural disasters, work-related issues, and unexpected changes.
Examples of stressors include hurricanes, earthquakes, disease, divorce, unemployment, marriage, and traffic jams. Stressors can also come from frustration from failing to achieve an important goal. Stress affects everyone, young and old, rich and poor. Life is full of stress, but stressors must be managed so that it would not lead to chronic stress that in turn would damage health.
Stress is defined as “the perception of a threat and the perception that you are not well prepared to cope with it” (Caudill, p.45). A stressor creates the perception of threat and this elicits a response from the individual. According to stress management experts, “Human beings have an automatic, biological response to the perception of threat or danger, called the flight-or-flight response.” (Caudill, p.45).
During a fight or flight reaction, there is “increased heart and breath rate, increased blood pressure, changes in blood flow to muscles … the effect is to put your body into temporary overdrive to meet the challenge of threat or danger” (Caudill, p.46). This is a natural response, and in normal circumstances, there is nothing wrong with it.
The average person is confronted with various types of problems daily. We are faced with problems on a regular basis. But it is the way people deal with the problem that determines if that person is going to experience stress or not. When confronted with a question a person must assess the level of difficulty and the available resources required to deal with the problem.
If there is the perception that the problem is severe and that there is no way to solve the problem, then stress happens. Thus, stress can be defined as a process in which personal demands and external pressures strains our capability to adapt and resulting in psychological and biological changes. If this is not managed correctly, then chronic stress can lead to illness.
While it is true that a certain amount of stress is normal, chronic negative stress may be harmful to a person’s health. Traumatic, stressful events may trigger either behavioral or biological processes that contribute to the onset of disease.
The following are just some of the physical manifestations of the effect of chronic stress and these are reduced immunity to disease; constipation; sleep disturbance; fatigue; headaches; poor concentration; shortness of breath; weight loss/gain; and depression (Caudill, p.46).
It is imperative to understand the impact of this phenomenon on our brain and overall health. The strain that resulted in dealing with stress is exacerbated by the biological, emotional, and behavioral response to it such as social interactions and physical activity, e.g., smoking, sleeping, eating and alcohol consumption.
There is a link between chronic stress and serious ailments such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, gastrointestinal disorders, weak immune system, etc. It is therefore essential that each learn to deal with stressors positively.
It begins with the realization that there is no such thing as a stress-free life and that everyone has to deal with personal and external pressures in life. The best thing to do is to have a positive attitude and not allow everyday stress to overwhelm us.
Caudill, Margaret. Managing Pain Before it Manages You. New York: Guilford Press, 2009.