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6 Mins

Signs you’re experiencing chronic stress

June 3, 2024
Alexandra Hopkins

Everyone experiences stress from time to time - research shows that 79% of adults in the UK feel stressed at least once a month. Life doesn’t always run smoothly and it’s natural for things like work, care-giving, finances and relationships to add a certain amount of pressure. However, if you find that you’re constantly overwhelmed and unable to relax, you might be dealing with chronic stress.  

What is chronic stress?

We often experience stress in short bursts, for instance an exam, a traffic jam or a challenging conversation with someone. However, chronic stress is where we have constant feelings of intense stress for a prolonged period of time, such as months or years. When this happens, our body spends so much time in fight-or-flight mode that it isn’t able to relax and recuperate. This can have a serious impact on our physical and mental health.

Physical signs of chronic stress:

  • Aches and pains
  • A lack of energy, feeling tired or fatigued
  • Headaches and muscle tension
  • Gastrological issues
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Frequent illnesses or infections

Mental signs of chronic stress:

  • Heightened emotions
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling anxious, nervous or unable to control worrying
  • Feeling down or depressed
  • Struggling to concentrate  
  • Unable to make decisions
  • Struggling to remember things

If chronic stress isn’t dealt with, it can lead to more serious health problems. Studies show that chronic stress is related to high blood pressure, which can raise the risk for other issues, such as a heart attack or stroke. Diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, weight changes and ulcers are also associated with chronic stress, in addition to mental health issues, like anxiety or depression.

Types of chronic stress

Reasons for chronic stress vary from person to person. Some examples may include ongoing health struggles, a challenging work or home life, recovering from a traumatic experience or a major life event, like the death of a loved one. Generally, the causes of chronic stress tend to fall into one of these four categories:

  • Emotional stress (difficult emotions, which can be brought on by mental health issues)
  • Relationship stress (applies to family, friends or romantic partners)
  • Work stress (pressures relating to your job)
  • Environmental stress (challenges where you live and work)

It’s important to note that people can experience more than one type of chronic stress at a time. For instance, relationship stress (such as frequent arguments) can take its toll on your emotions, and work stress (such as working overtime and spending less time at home) can impact your relationships.

How to manage chronic stress

Talk to someone

It can be really helpful to talk to someone you trust about what’s causing you to feel stressed. There’s a good feeling that comes from getting something out in the open and being listened to. The person might be able to give you some useful advice, plus it gives you the opportunity to process your thoughts, so that you can come up with potential solutions.

Create healthy habits

Look at your daily routine and ask yourself how it can serve you better. Things like eating balanced meals, regular exercise, spending time outdoors, getting plenty of sleep and waking up at the same time each day can make a big difference to how we feel.  

Making time to look after ourselves is also essential when it comes to managing our stress levels. Activities that allow us to pause and unwind can also benefit our mental health, for example, meditation, journalling or breathing exercises.

Set boundaries

Sometimes, we can struggle to say no to things, even when we don’t have the time or energy. When we put the needs or feelings of others ahead of our own, this can cause us to feel stressed. Setting boundaries helps us to prioritise our own needs, and by communicating these boundaries to others, we set clear expectations of ourselves so that they don’t ask too much of us. We’ve written another blog about boundaries here.  

Talking therapy

If stress is affecting your daily life and you’re unable to manage, you might want to consider talking therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps patients to identify negative thought patterns that lead to chronic stress and encourages them to challenge unhelpful behaviours, thoughts or feelings. At ieso, we offer online CBT where you can ‘speak’ to a therapist by typing back and forth. We also offer video calls in certain areas. Find out more about what we do.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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