Impact of Chronic Stress
Impact of Chronic Stress – Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash
Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 4/22/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.
Chronic stress is sometimes ingrained into our lives so much that we don’t even notice its prevalence. In such circumstances, we witness the symptoms in our bodies and our behaviors before we identify the cause of the stress.
In a 2019 Gallup study of 143 countries, the US tied with Sri Lanka, Iran, and Albania at fourth place, with 55% of the surveyed population experiencing “a lot of stress.” Greece topped the list, with 59% of the population stating that they were stressed. This is attributed to the financial downturn witnessed by the country at that time.
In the US, those between the ages of 15 and 49 and those who earn the lowest 20% of income face the most stress daily.
What is Chronic Stress?
Chronic stress is consistent stress that one experiences in the long term. Short-term stress that’s a part of all our lives is called acute stress. Prolonged acute stress turns into chronic stress and can have a significant impact on you.
Long-term stress can be caused by systematic constructs like geographical environment, family members’ behavior, and immediate surroundings. So, some tend to view the causes of chronic stress as uncontrollable.
Examples of Chronic Stress
Following types of chronic stress are frequently experienced.
1. Environmental stress
Crime rates and poverty levels of where you live, and the condition of your home environment can contribute to chronic stress.
2. Emotional stress
Prolonged guilt, shame, anger, and other strong emotions due to a perceived or real injustice can keep one stressed until the underlying cause is treated or changed.
3. Work stress
Chronic stress can be caused by high-pressure jobs or jobs that can pose a consistent threat to one’s life.
4. Relationship stress
Close relationships with parents, siblings, partners, and friends can be a source of chronic stress if the relationship has adverse impacts on you.
Impact of Chronic Stress
1. Overall Health
According to research, 60–80% of primary care visits are connected to a stress response. When we are stressed, our brain goes into fight-or-flight mode, which helps us deal with stressful situations.
However, with chronic stress, we are continuously in flight-or-fight mode, sending our bodies into overdrive. This results in muscle tension, decreased energy, acne, aches & pains, headaches, irritability, fatigue, ulcers, weight changes, frequent infections, obesity, irritated bowel syndrome, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and eczema.
2. Surgery Outcomes
Experts have found empirical evidence to confirm that stress slows down postoperative wound healing. In addition to a direct impact on wound repair, stress also impacts recovery indirectly by encouraging “health-damaging behaviors.”
3. Mental Health
Studies have linked chronic stress to depression, anxiety, confused thinking, and lack of focus. When you feel stressed, your body unlearns how to relax, and being mindful can become unnatural.
Other mental conditions caused by heightened stress include social phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and suicide ideation.
Research establishes a deterioration of the immunity system when one is exposed to long-term stress. This means that recovering from diseases can take longer if you have a high level of stress in your life.
A study by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare estimated a life expectancy loss of 2.8 years for those who faced “heavy stress.”
5. Life Satisfaction
Stress can keep you awake at night, irregulate sleep, and cause insomnia in some cases. Sleep has many health and mental health benefits. Interference to sleep can cause severe dissatisfaction and leave you feeling exhausted every morning.
A study also found that dissatisfaction with financial status and work, depression, stress, and anxiety were the “major determinants of life satisfaction.” Stress, in turn, can cause depression and anxiety. This may mean that prolonged stress can decrease life satisfaction manifold.
As discussed above, chronic stress can impact almost all aspects of your life. Hence, it is critical to learn how to identify and manage your chronic stressors.