Chronic stress and burnout can play a role in many problematic personal and professional relationships. Speak to one of our trained counsellors today about how evidence-based talk therapy can help you.

Chronic stress is a response to emotional pressure, suffered over a long period of time, in which individuals perceive they have little or no control over the eventual outcome of a long-term event or a series of short-term events. You may experience harmful emotional and physical effects as a direct result of prolonged stress.

Stress can be treated and alleviated through highly effective talk therapy programmes hosted at Recovery Direct’s treatment centre in South Africa.

Overview of chronic stress or burnout and recovery?

Events that trigger stress are called stressors. Stressors usually warn us about physical threats to our wellbeing but as a precaution, any event that requires critical consideration makes us unhappy, or has an element of uncertainty, is flagged as a potential threat in our minds. Apart from warning us against a physical danger that may lurk around the next corner, stressors are useful for general survival, such as warning us to consider the risks before accepting a proposal. It also stimulates us to prepare for an important event.

Stress is not only a result of external events. It can be generated internally when we imagine things that may or may not happen. At times irrational, negative thoughts can intrude and disturb our peace of mind. When we overreact to a stressor, then it becomes an enemy, rather than a saviour.

There is no doubt that chronic stress has a serious impact on many aspects of a person’s life. It is not only unpleasant for the person and those around them, but also a big obstacle to achieving personal satisfaction and happiness.

Some people exhibit resilience as an ability to remain healthy, despite chronic stress – but even then some emotional discomfort may remain.

Resilience is a tool that most people instinctively apply, but many people lack this ability and it is difficult to achieve through self-healing exercises. The stress disorder is usually too deeply embedded and there are many other influences involved, so the process is not as simple as it seems.

Medication is a remedy that many people consider, but it is not desirable, as it only soothes the symptoms and does not heal the cause. It also has other drawbacks, including dependency, unpleasant side effects, incompatibility with other medicines and, in some cases, addiction.

Psychotherapy should be utilised for a more complete healing process. In psychotherapy, a primary evaluation is done to determine how deep-seated the problem is and what new skills you require to effectively deal with it. A flexible procedure will allow for the treatment to be adjusted, to compensate for other influences that may surface during subsequent sessions.

People who have endured chronic stress for a prolonged period, are usually also saddled with indirect problems, such as relationship and employment problems. Reputable therapists can assist you with direct intervention in such cases.

Our personal profiles and the impact of stressful events differ vastly and cannot be generalised. Unlike clinical tests, common stress quizzes that purport to measure stress levels are not reliable. If you are highly stressed, you should see a therapist for a professional, individual stress evaluation. However, certain things are universal and the following guidelines cover some of the more common influences on our health.

Health problems caused by chronic stress

  • Anxiety, depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Panic disorder
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Memory problems
  • Poor concentration
  • Headaches, back pain
  • Eating disorders
  • Loss of vitamins, minerals
  • Poor immune system
  • Poor digestion
  • Bowel, tummy pains
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Weight problems
  • Skin conditions
  • Poor wound healing
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Premature ageing
  • Frequent colds or flu
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid pulse
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Alcohol, drug abuse
  • Hypertension
  • Heart failure

What causes chronic stress?

Common external causes of stress

  • Major life changes
  • Financial or legal problems
  • Work or study overload
  • Conflicts with colleagues, bosses
  • Humiliation, bullying, harassment
  • Neglect of diet, sleep, exercise
  • Forced dependence on others
  • Inferior or high risk environment
  • Others expecting too much
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Too many personal obligations
  • Too much physical activity
  • Negative media bombardment
  • Dysfunctional parental homes
  • Trauma (accident, crime, divorce, death)

Common internal causes of stress:

  • Pessimism, negativity
  • Introversion, poor social skills
  • Poor self-image, fear of rejection
  • Fear of uncertainty, imagined doom
  • Perfectionism, need for approval
  • Rigid thinking, inflexibility
  • Inability to unwind, relax, have fun
  • Egocentrism (it only happens to me)
  • Unrealistic ambitions, ideals, goals
  • Perceived lack of opportunity
  • Unpleasant intrusive thoughts
  • Adrenalin and/or cortisol addiction
  • Spiralling process (negativity feeds itself)
  • Delusion (conspiracies against me)
  • Self pity (revels in being a martyr)
  • Genetic (inherited genes)
  • Other underlying emotional disorders


Basic types of severe stress

There are two basic types of severe stress; acute stress and chronic stress:

Acute stress
This is the most common type. It is intense stress, usually generated by a sudden or short-term confrontation. It can be beneficial when it energises and motivates you to take decisive action to get something over and done with, however, when it happens too often or lasts for too long, it becomes chronic and wears you down.

Chronic stress
If you are highly stressed most of the time, you are suffering from chronic stress. It is a long-term challenge which wears you down mentally and physically.

Chronic stress influences can be residual childhood traumas which were never resolved. Others come from factors such as work pressure, major life changes, personality quirks, our environment and a multitude of other stressors. (See “What causes chronic stress?”)

The hidden danger of chronic stress is that we become used to it. Acute stress is a novelty that we sense and react to very quickly when a new threat pops up. However, most of the time chronic stress is simply left to toil in the background – we are so accustomed to the feeling that we do nothing about it.

Sufferers reach a breaking point when their mental or physical defenses become depleted, due to the degenerative long-term effects of chronic stress. This is when untreated chronic stress culminates in illness, abuse, violence, suicide and other tragedies.

How does chronic stress affect you?

With constantly high stress levels there is more wear and tear and more maintenance work must be done by our bodies. This depletes resources quickly and is sustained for long periods of time. Often there are simply not enough resources to meet demand. This damages many of our physical organs and can lead to anxietydepression, substance use issues and other disorders.

Build a safety net – A network of caring family and trusted friends is important. A sympathetic ear is a known relaxant for emotional problems. Stress drives us into isolation – resist the temptation and build a social safety net that you can rely on. The quality of our relationships is more important than quantity.

Take control – Even if you have no control over an issue that causes stress, you can still control what you do next. It may be just a chat about how you feel or if necessary, arranging to see a mental health professional or booking into Recovery Direct rehab in Johannesburg.

Force a new angle – Focusing on the negative only breeds more negativity. Appease intrusive thoughts by focusing on something simple. Take a deep breath. Open your mind to advice – don’t be too quick to reject it. Broadening your horizon will open the way for more solutions.

Distance yourself – Take a deep breath or go for a walk. Detach yourself from the issue. Then look at it as if you are giving someone else advice. Talk loudly to an imagined friend in need. You will have more clarity when there is emotional distance between yourself and the issue.

Get hands on – Uncertainty can generate anxiety. Get real-time feedback from people by speaking to them face to face. This is much more effective than using digital media or phoning. The more first hand information you have about the issue, the better you can prepare and the stronger you will be.

Timeout to Re-focus, Re-centre, Rejuvenate

Find clarity and re-gain emotional stability from anxiety & stress

Recovery Direct Executive Care is an evidence-based wellness program designed around you

Time to prioritise yourself

Harness the mental agility to manage your life again. Fine tune your mental-health and wellbeing inside of South Africa’s leading care centre.