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You are Not Alone: Breaking Down Prolonged Stress

Personal Development

We all feel stress from time to time, but chronic or enduring stress can take a physical toll on your body. People around the world are steadily studying the effects of stress on the body and mental wellbeing, but there’s still so much we don’t know. What we do know is that the physical manifestations of stress can go beyond tense shoulders or a queasy stomach.

Everyone handles stress differently. Some people rely on a support group of friends, family, or another trusted party. Others may exercise or throw themselves into a hobby. Still, others may, unfortunately, turn to illicit substances to self-medicate.

Teenage years are such a fundamental time. The way we learn to deal with conflict and stress usually become habits that follow us into adulthood, but there are no classes on dealing with stress on the high school course schedule. According to the 2014 Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), 42% of teens aren’t sure if they’re doing enough to manage stress.

That’s a problem.

Understanding stress and your relationship to it is imperative in order to learn how to deal with it. Did you know there are different kinds of stress?

According to the APA, there are three types of stress from which people can suffer:

  • Chronic Stress - This is prolonged exposure to stressful situations typically tied to things like school, work, family, and romantic relationships.
  • Acute Stress - This is, as you may have guessed, stressed tied to a specific event, i.e. giving a speech, losing a job, or getting a lower grade than you’d like on a test.
  • Episodic Acute Stress - Those who experience frequent bouts of acute stress, whether events are within their control or not, may have episodic acute stress. People who experience episodic acute stress are often seen as worriers and may experience anxiety regularly.

When you hear that stress can lead to health issues; it’s the chronic stress and episodic acute stress you have to worry about.

So, what exactly is the big deal when it comes to stress?

Okay, we’re going to keep this simple here because, honestly, deep-diving into the physiological and psychological effects would take ages. Basically, stress in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s your body’s way of warning you and putting you in fight-or-flight mode in order to protect yourself. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t know the difference between a huge presentation and happening upon a bear while you’re hiking so it’s unable to discern real threats to safety the way our cognitive mind can. If you stay in a constant state of stress, your body stays in that fight-or-flight mode flooding your body with a continuous stream of cortisol, the stress hormone. This can cause your stress system to get out of whack.

The most common symptoms and signs of prolonged stress are:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Headaches
  • Rapid Pulse and/or Pounding Heart
  • Indigestion and/or Stomach Pain
  • Muscular Aching
  • Irregular Menstrual Cycles
  • Heartburn
  • Irritability
  • Sweaty Palms
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of Breath

Stress is a hot topic, and rightly so. Left unchecked, chronic stress and episodic acute stress aren’t just a nuisance, they can lead to long-standing and potentially harmful consequences such as:

  • Insulin Resistance/Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Suppressed Immune System
  • Mental Health Disorders
  • Heart Disease
  • Heart Attacks and Related Issues
  • Stroke
  • Eating Disorders
  • Gastrointestinal Problems
  • Skin Issues
  • Hair Loss

This isn’t meant to be a gloom and doom blog post. Knowledge is power. Knowing how stress works and how it affects you personally is key to keeping it under control.

If you’re feeling stressed, even if you think you’ve got it handled, we urge you to reach out to a friend or trusted authority figure. Remember, we all experience stress. You’re not alone and you don’t have to handle it alone.

We know not everything can be solved by taking a deep breath, but it certainly helps us slow down and take things as they come. What’s your favorite way to destress? We want to hear it in the comments below!

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