Stress is the mind’s way of warning us about potential danger or future harm. It stimulates us to take remedial or precautionary action and to a large degree is a normal part of everyday life. If however, you become unable to mediate or de-stress from events resulting effects can become highly disruptive to your health and wellbeing.
Chronic Stress Treatment Clinic in Cape Town
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 directly treated and alleviated through highly effective relief programmes hosted at Recovery Direct’s treatment centre in South Africa.
Overview of chronic stress?
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 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 the 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.
How to improve your stress tolerance
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 the 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.
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.
Basic types of severe stress
There are two basic types of severe stress; acute stress and chronic 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.
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 anxiety, depression, substance use issues and other disorders.
How to deal with chronic stress
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 hardiness – an ability to remain healthy, despite chronic stress – but even then some emotional discomfort remains.
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.
The Holmes and Rahe stress scale
The Holmes and Rahe stress scale is a professionally researched guide that gives a fair measure of how certain major events affect our health. The units for life changes over the past year must be added up and compared to the guide below the table to see how it affects your health:
Scale for Adults
|Life event during the past year||Units|
|Death of a spouse||100|
|Death of a close family member||63|
|Personal injury or illness||53|
|Dismissal from work||47|
|Change in health of family member||44|
|Gain a new family member||39|
|Change in financial state||38|
|Death of a close friend||37|
|Change to different line of work||36|
|Change in frequency of arguments||35|
|Foreclosure of mortgage or loan||30|
|Trouble with in-laws||29|
|Child leaving home||29|
|Change in responsibilities at work||29|
|Outstanding personal achievement||28|
|Spouse starts or stops work||26|
|Beginning or end school||26|
|Change in living conditions||25|
|Revision of personal habits||24|
|Trouble with boss||23|
|Change in working hours or conditions||20|
|Change in schools||20|
|Change in residence||20|
|Change in recreation||19|
|Change in church activities||19|
|Change in social activities||18|
|Minor mortgage or loan||17|
|Change in sleeping habits||16|
|Change in number of family reunions||15|
|Change in eating habits||15|
|Minor violation of law||11|
Score of 300+: At risk of illness.
Score of 150-299: Risk of illness is moderate.
Score <150: Slight risk of illness.
A modified scale for children:
|Death of parent||100|
|Divorce of parents||90|
|Acquiring a visible deformity||80|
|Fathering a child||70|
|Jail sentence of parent||70|
|Marital separation of parents||69|
|Death of a brother or sister||68|
|Change in acceptance by peers||67|
|Unplanned pregnancy of sister||64|
|Discovery of being an adopted child||63|
|Marriage of parent to stepparent||63|
|Death of a close friend||63|
|Having a visible congenital deformity||62|
|Serious illness requiring hospitalization||58|
|Failure of a grade in school||56|
|Not making an extracurricular activity||55|
|Hospitalization of a parent||55|
|Jail sentence of parent for over 30 days||53|
|Breaking up with boyfriend or girlfriend||53|
|Beginning to date||51|
|Suspension from school||50|
|Becoming involved with drugs or alcohol||50|
|Birth of a brother or sister||50|
|Increase in arguments between parents||47|
|Loss of job by parent||46|
|Outstanding personal achievement||46|
|Change in parent’s financial status||45|
|Accepted at college of choice||43|
|Being a senior in high school||42|
|Hospitalization of a sibling||41|
|Increased absence of parent from home||38|
|Brother or sister leaving home||37|
|Addition of third adult to family||34|
|Becoming a full-fledged member of a church||31|
|Decrease in arguments between parents||27|
|Decrease in arguments with parents||26|
|Mother or father beginning work||26|
Score of 300+: At risk of illness.
Score of 150-299: Risk of illness is moderate.
Score <150: Slight risk of illness.
How much major stressors affect our health
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
- 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