Stress...everybody's got it. Not all stress is bad. Just because you feel stress does not mean it immediately needs to be reduced. The feeling of stress is natural and can help us to act when we need to act. It can occur when we are excited about something new or anticipate a challenge. It can occur when we have a surprised response or when we need to act quickly during a moment of a potential threat to safety.
However, chronic stress is not something our bodies and minds were meant to endure. This type of stress can have a negative impact on our minds, our emotions, and our bodies. Chronic stress can occur when you have endured abuse as a child, when you have endured domestic abuse, when you work in a toxic environment, when you have to worry about how you are going to get your next meal, when you are the target of bullying, etc. Chronic stress is stress that is experienced over a long period of time.
What are the impacts of chronic stress? This type of stress can impact our minds, our emotions, and our bodies. I personally have noticed that it can have an impact on my memory. According to the NJ Memory Center, a study published in the Journal of Neurosciences showed that "people who experience chronic stress due to bullying or continuous pressure in a tough job can run a higher risk of memory loss" (Dr. Burchette, Yes, Chronic Stress Can Impact Your Memory, 2021). It was interesting to read in that same article that "researchers led by Jonathan Godbout found that sustained stress erodes memory and found that the immune system plays a key role in cognitive impairment" (Dr. Burchette, 2021).
This leads me to discuss the impacts of chronic stress on the body. Stress impacts every aspect of our bodies. According to the American Psychological Association, it affects "the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems" (Stress Effects on the Body, 2023). Here is a little background to a couple of ways that I have personally experienced the effects of chronic stress on my body. "Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness", which can cause "other reactions of the body and even promote" things such as migraines and chronic pain conditions (APA, Stress Effects on the Body, 2023). "Chronic stress...can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels" and inflammation in the circulatory system (APA, Stress Effects on the Body, 2023). Chronic stress and the increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in our bodies over long periods of time can have numerous effects on our bodies. This can "result in increased immune system activation" (APA, Stress Effects on the Body, 2023). This is why they have found that many people, such as myself, who have experienced chronic stress have developed autoimmune disorders, such as the diagnoses I received of lupus.
While stress in short spans is helpful. Chronic stress is not, but instead can be damaging. Let's take notice when we are in a situation that is causing us unhealthy stress and then take steps to take care of ourselves. Learn more in my next post about how to reduce stress.