Ways To Manage Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can be psychologically and physically debilitating.

Posted Feb 22, 2012

Stress is a normal part of living. It affects people of all ages, genders and circumstances and can lead, when it becomes chronic, to physical and psychological health issues. Many of the stressors that we deal with today turn into chronic stressors. They are issues that are not easily resolved.  Things build up. One thing leads to another. We feel overwhelmed. 

This is quite different from the stress that can be beneficial at times, that can produce a boost that provides us with drive and energy to get through a situation. Everyday stressors can be managed with healthy stress management behaviors. We can take a break. We can talk to others about what's going on. We can take some deep breaths. We can rethink the situation that we are confronting.  All of these strategies can work to help us get through everyday stressors.

Unfortunately, when stressors that we are confronting are extreme, such as being the only caregiver for a chronically ill family member, the stress is much more difficult to manage. Chronic stress differs from everyday stressors by the fact that it can be constant and persistent over an extended period of time. Because of this, it can be psychologically and physically debilitating. The consequences of chronic stress are serious. They create anxiety and depression, and these can increase the risk of other serious illnesses, such as heart disease. Chronic stress can occur when everyday stressors are ignored or poorly managed or when an individual is exposed to traumatic events.

A number of studies have illustrated the strong link between such problems as insomnia and chronic stress. Such stress can adversely affect immunity to infections and negatively impact the cardiovascular, the neuroendocrine and the central nervous systems.

So what can you do about chronic stress? The first is to recognize and admit it exists. You cannot do anything about something that you do not acknowledge is present. The second is to be able to find the time or manage your time in such a way that you can develop and implement strategies to manage the stress that you are attempting to deal with. Most stress management strategies require a commitment to taking the time to practice them. Using relaxation exercises is a great idea, but you have to take the time to learn the exercises and to practice them on a daily basis. Physical exercise is also a good stress management strategy since it increases your body's production of feel good endorphins and helps in treating mild forms of depression and anxiety. But again, you have to make the time to exercise.

Social support can also be very important, but this, again, requires taking the time to send an e-mail to a friend or have a phone conversation. Meditation and mindful prayer can also help the mind and the body to relax and focus. These techniques can help you to see new perspectives, to develop self-compassion and forgiveness and to begin to rethink the priorities in your life.

And last of all, there is a strategy that doesn't require any additional time in your day. It involves being able to smile and to laugh some about the situation that you may be in. Laughing and smiling can help relieve some of the tension that you feel and may improve the situation. Those around you are more likely to react in a positive way to a smile rather than a grimace.

Again, the keys to managing chronic stress involve recognizing its presence in your life and making a commitment to do the things that you need to do to decrease your stress level and manage the situations that you find yourself in. This usually requires taking some time to learn and practice stress management strategies on a daily basis. Try to take a break. Try to get someone else to watch the children for an hour or so. Or run an errand for you or for the elderly parent that you are caring for. A break can allow you to refocus and rethink the priorities in your life and how you can take care of yourself while responding to the demands and the expectations that you set for yourself.