The buildup of stress over time can quickly become too much to handle. Without understanding the symptoms of chronic stress or having techniques to manage your stress levels, you can experience debilitating consequences. By enrolling in a stress management programme, you can build the skills to conquer chronic stress in your everyday life.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Stress?
The symptoms of chronic stress can vary dramatically between different people. For some, chronic stress can begin to feel like depression — a loss of hope for the future, lack of energy, and difficulty focusing.
For others, chronic stress can feel like an anxiety disorder — constantly fretting about how much you have to do, feeling like your thoughts are running out of control, or having trouble sleeping.
While everyone experiences stress differently, these are some of the most common symptoms of chronic stress:
1. Anger or Irritability
When you’re overwhelmed by stress, it often comes out in irritability or anger. The smallest things can set you off, even when they normally wouldn’t be such a bother. When living with chronic stress, it’s as if your tolerance for discomfort becomes lower and lower. You can lash out at the people you care about the most, even when your frustration has nothing to do with them.
2. Having Sleep Difficulties
Sleep issues are a common symptom of chronic stress. Yet these sleep difficulties often come in several different forms, including:
- Restlessness at night
- Drowsiness during the day
- Trouble staying asleep
- Not feeling rested after a full night’s rest
It’s as if your brain is constantly locked onto your stressors, and you can’t relax and unwind when you need to the most. This can quickly become a destructive spiral, with worsening sleep leading to further mental health challenges.
3. Changes in Social Behaviour
Even the most outgoing people can see their social behaviours start to change when living with chronic stress. They may start staying home after work or on the weekends, even if that differs from their typical social habits. Or sometimes they struggle to maintain the close and intimate relationships they have because they feel like they don’t have the energy to invest in others.
This can quickly become extremely isolating and can have lasting effects. Your stress can damage friendships, push you away from others, and rob you of the friendship and companionship in your life.
4. Using Drugs or Alcohol to Cope
Many people will turn to substance use in an attempt to manage their stress-related symptoms. The initial effects of substances may seem helpful in reducing anxiety and stress, but the long-term effects only worsen your symptoms and contribute to additional problems.
Having a drink to unwind may seem natural, but using drugs or alcohol to cope can quickly lead you to develop a substance use disorder. It will only add more stress and complications to your life. If you develop an addiction, you may need professional addiction treatment services in order to recover.
5. Panic Attacks
Anxiety is a common symptom of chronic stress, and in severe cases, it can lead to debilitating panic attacks. When you have too much stress on your plate to overcome, it can quickly lead to frantic thoughts, hyperventilation, and a mind that runs out of control.
A panic attack is a serious indicator that there are deep underlying issues that need to be overcome.
6. Low Energy
When you’re stressed out, you just aren’t as productive and energetic as you used to be. Stress weighs on you and can sap your energy levels until it gets back under control. Paradoxically, this low energy level can often seem like it gets in the way of you overcoming your stressors, which only makes the problem worse.
7. Change in Appetite
Always feeling stressed out can cause dietary changes as well. It can lead to people either overeating or undereating and seeing unexpected weight changes as a result. On the one hand, some people feel so stressed that their appetite goes away entirely. Others turn to food as an unhealthy method of dealing with their stress, which swings the problem in the other direction.
8. Inability to Focus
Stress can cloud your mental abilities and cause you to have trouble focusing on your tasks, remembering important information, or even having the motivation to keep up with your responsibilities. This mental fog is a direct result of the stressors you have in your life.
Side Effects of Chronic Stress
The symptoms of chronic stress are difficult enough to deal with on their own, but there are even more potential side effects that can result from living with stress for too long. These side effects fall into three main categories that often begin to show signs after people have lived with chronic stress for months or years without addressing it appropriately:
Chronic stress is associated with several different medical diseases. This includes health problems, such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
When your body is under the pressure of chronic stress, it has less energy to expend in keeping your physical health in top shape. The result can be a serious medical disease that may need professional intervention to overcome.
Mental Health Disorders
Chronic stress isn’t necessarily a mental illness on its own, but it can lead to the development of a number of different mental health disorders. People under chronic stress will often go on to develop mood or anxiety disorders, often as a direct result of their stressed-out lifestyle.
Even if you resolve your stressors at this point, mental health disorders may remain. Thankfully, there are several evidence-based treatment options to help you overcome mental illness, but most people will need this professional assistance to recover.
Substance Use Disorders
When people turn to drugs or alcohol to attempt to manage their stress levels, they enter a dangerous pattern of substance use that frequently leads to addiction. Addiction carries its own set of debilitating symptoms and consequences, including:
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
- Growing tolerance to drugs or alcohol
- Severe physical withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop
- Worsening mental health symptoms
- Worsening physical health symptoms
- An inability to stop on your own
- Invasive drug and alcohol cravings
- Continued substance use despite mounting consequences
Addiction is not a choice. By the time someone develops a substance use disorder, they will have experienced significant changes in the very structure of their brain. They make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to quit on their own.
Thankfully, addiction treatment works if you seek out professionals with the experience and tools necessary to help you recover.
How to Manage Chronic Stress
Knowing all the complications of chronic stress, it’s vital that you take action to prevent the problem from getting worse. There are three main pathways to overcoming chronic stress, which you can put into action today to help you regain control over your mood, mind, and health:
1. Reduce Your Stressors
Taking away stressors is the most straightforward way of dealing with chronic stress. Ask yourself: what is causing your stress? What can you put aside? What can you take off your plate so that you don’t need to stress out about it any longer?
For example, if you’ve taken on too much at work, maybe consider delegating some tasks to your coworkers or subordinates. Perhaps you volunteer your free time after work to a cause you care about, but it’s taking a toll on your mental health. Determine what you can eliminate, spend more time stress-free, and watch your symptoms improve.
2. Increase Your Capacity for Stress
Sometimes, the stressors you face can’t simply be put to the side. Perhaps what’s giving you stress is also what puts food on the table, or maybe you’re taking care of a parent or child and can’t afford to put the responsibility on someone else.
In this case, consider making some lifestyle changes that can increase your capacity for stress. There are a few helpful options for this, including:
These lifestyle changes can’t remove your stress, and they aren’t a cure, but they can help you handle more stress without bursting at the seams.
3. Seek Professional Treatment
If you’ve tried everything else, a stress management programme can connect you with mental health professionals who have an abundance of experience helping people overcome the challenges of a stressful life.
Working with licenced clinicians and therapists can introduce you to evidence-based methods for reducing your stress, teach you how to manage your stress in a healthier fashion, and help you reclaim control over your life.
At APN London, our stress management programme was designed from the ground up to help people from all walks of life learn to live healthier, stronger, and more productive lives by conquering stress. Reach out to our team by using the live chat function on our website or fill out our confidential online contact form for more information.
- “Chronic Stress.” Yale Medicine, Yale Medicine, 6 Aug. 2022, www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder.