What exactly is chronic stress? It’s a frequent acute stress response where the body cannot get back to its base state. Or in other words, you never feel unstressed.
Why do we have stress? In the past and to a certain extent today, it has helped us survive. These quick moments of stress are called acute stress. The problem is when acute stress becomes something constant.
Physical acute stress responses in the body are:
- Acute use of energy
- Blood pressure and pulse
- Shut down of non essential processes
- Activate immunity
- Up-regulate coagulation
- Kidneys reabsorb fluids
- Bladder empties
- Blunted pain perception
- Blood flow and glucose to brain and muscles
- Enhance memory, learning and recall
These days most of us aren’t being chased by wild animals or come into life threatening situations on a daily basis, but we face a different kind of stress. The pressure to achieve, busyness, appointments, work, staying healthy, the list goes on. Not to mention, a thought or emotion can trigger a stress response. There doesn’t necessarily have to be anything in the present moment to cause stress, the past can trigger it as well.
Ways chronic stress can effect our body:
Cardiovascular Health: Blood pressure goes up, heart beats faster, muscles around blood vessels become tightened and thick, the heart muscle can become thick which can lead to heart failure.
Metabolism: Glucose is released and level of blood sugar goes up.
GI Tract: Can cause irritable colon, diarrhea or constipation.
Growth: Severe stress in childhood can stunt growth.
Immune System: Stress can trigger the immune system to overachieve and misidentify self-material and start to attack itself. It can cause auto immune diseases as well as lower the immune system making the body more susceptible to viruses such as cold sores, shingles and HIV.
Pain: Chronic stress can increase the perception of pain.
So now that we know chronic stress can actually harm our body and create disease, what can we do actually prevent it?
How to help diminish chronic stress:
- Physical exercise
- Social support
- Create a sense of control
- Compartmentalization or the ability to move on easily
- Meditation, breathing and smiling
- Giving back
- Spiritual beliefs
- Cognitive flexibility (the ability to change tactics when things aren’t working)
- Outlets such as hobbies or activities that give you pleasure
David Long, M.D. has been practicing medicine since 1977, in the South Pacific and on the Oregon Coast. He has been recognized for his outstanding contributions in leadership with several medical honors, and has served as Chief of Staff and Chief of Medicine at various times from 1982 to the present at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital. Dr. Long has also had extensive training as a couples coach, including IMAGO Relationship Therapy. Because of his medical background and experience treating an older population, David is very interested in the elements of healthy aging and the interface between brain physiology, sexuality over the decades, and interpersonal relationships.