Some level of stress is part of everyone’s life, it’s part of being human. At some points in your life, you will experience demanding situations which cause the body to surge with hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, helping you to take action. Most people will report that they experience stress on a regular basis, possibly even every day. These short bursts of adrenaline are beneficial, helping you maintain sharp focus, improving your performance, and keeping your senses fine-tuned. Our bodies are designed to handle these isolated incidents, even if they happen with regularity, and some people report that these experiences help them feel alive and rejuvenated. 

However, if you find yourself continually in this heightened sense and find that you are always ready to pounce or to run, you may be experiencing chronic stress. Stress becomes chronic when it is long-lasting, occurs continually, and has very few ebbs and flows. In other words, you may be suffering from chronic stress when it becomes part of your everyday life, and you can’t seem to bounce back into a normal state of resting (in terms of heart rate or breathing). This level of stress can wreak havoc on your body, in both the short- and long-term. Recognizing the signs of chronic stress will allow you to look for ways to reduce it–maybe even get help–before you experience devastating physical reactions.

  • You can’t maintain your daily routine, because stressors permeate your thoughts and prevent you from sustaining the activities and needs of your everyday life.
  • Your relationships suffer because you are often irritable and reactive and may struggle with communication with their friends and families or even avoid them, and are bothered by even minor issues bother you.
  • You cannot find happiness in your typical activities and hobbies. 
  • You have consistent sleep issues. Everybody can have a bad night periodically, either from thoughts keeping you from relaxing, or a late-night meal or drink, but this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence. Chronic stress causes more serious side effects. Perhaps you can’t fall asleep because you’re consumed with thoughts about a difficult situation, or you continually wake up in a panic because of negative thoughts and fears about your life. 
  • Headaches/inability to concentrate. In support of the idea that stress is in your head, it is. One of the most obvious signs of stress of any kind—acute or random—is a headache. Chronic tension headaches are known to occur regularly after a significant stressful event, so it makes sense that chronic stress leads to chronic headaches. Another symptom, which may be related to headaches, is the inability to concentrate. Those suffering from chronic stress often have scenarios of their stressors playing in their minds over and over, preventing them from focusing on work, school, or other things they need to. 
  • Chronic pain. If you continually have unexplained pain, or pain which seems to linger long after the physical activity or injury, you may be suffering from stress-induced chronic pain. Increased cortisol levels may be one of the largest contributors to this condition, and other physical effects of stress which include poor posture and sleep, reduction in physical activity and bad eating habits, can also contribute to this concern. 
  • Frequent sickness. Stress wears down your immune system, making you susceptible to a variety of infections. If you’re already suffering from a chronic condition which you have previously kept under control, you make experience multiple flare-ups. If you do catch a cold or the flu, you could struggle to recover from it.
  • Insomnia. It’s hard to fall asleep when your mind is consumed by thoughts. Lack of sleep alone can cause health problems, but the inability to turn the brain off at night is a symptom of chronic stress. Those suffering from chronic stress often struggle to fall asleep and may be awakened by nightmares. They can’t get comfortable in bed and may experience night sweats. This leads to reduced energy and irritation during the day.
  • Digestive issues and reduced appetite. A common symptom of stress is pain described as “in the pit of my stomach.” Long term digestive issues, including nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and constipation, are common in those suffering from chronic stress. The increased hormone levels cause overactive nerves, and major changes in appetite (either overeating or undereating) exacerbate this issue. 
  • Hair loss. If you notice a lot of hair in your brush each day, you may be suffering from one of two types of hair loss caused by stress. Telogen effluviam causes the hair to simply stop growing for a period, while in alopecia areata, the body’s own white blood cells attack the hair follicles. The hair may fall out in patches, your entire head may be affected, and you may even lose body hair.  
  • Rapid heartbeat. It’s a well-known fact that stress and anxiety can cause rapid heartbeat. However, what you may not realize is that adrenaline is a major cause of increased heart rate, causing your blood pressure to rise. The added pressure on your vascular system increases your risk for heart attack and blood clots. 

The first step to making changes in your life is to acknowledge that what you’re experiencing is not just average stress, but chronic. Recognize that your symptoms can be life-threatening if they continue for a long time and look for ways to make lifestyle changes and reduce your stress. Although this may sound easier in theory than in reality, your long-term health and happiness is worth the effort.

Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash