The Effects of Chronic Stress – Why We Need To Escape The Cycle

Stress is a common theme in my life. I have to admit that, for me, personally, it has become a chronic condition. Recently, I have finally made the step of realizing that stress is the evil dictator ruling a vicious cycle. A revolution is necessary:

Stress is something we have all experienced at some point in our lives. From a biological perspective, stress is a phenomenon that occurs when we experience circumstances that disturb our physical and mental equilibrium. These circumstances, which are referred to as stressors, include heavy workloads, relationship problems, illnesses or upcoming, life-changing events such as weddings, divorces or childbirth. Stress is naturally occurring and can even be helpful in certain situations such as being under pressure to finish an essay, but if stress is not relieved it becomes chronic. Chronic stress can have negative effects on our physical and psychological condition, relationships, work or school situation and other aspects of our social life.

Stressors initiate physical and psychological responses which manifest in different ways. For one, our physical condition can be affected by stress, which manifests in tension, headaches, high blood pressure and other physical ailments. On top of that, stress is known to worsen life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, stroke and heart attack. For instance, some studies have shown, that survivors of heart attacks were able to decrease their chance of recurrence by 74% by being counseled in stress management. Furthermore, stressors are generated in the nervous system and can lead to several psychological effects such as depression, irritability, anxiety, sleeping problems and memory loss, if they are prolonged. For example, the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons claims that "[... ] stress may adversely affect hippocampal structure and function, producing deficits of both memory and cognition", which demonstrates that the brain is strongly influenced by chronic stress. Unfortunately, the physical effects of stress can actually lead to the psychological effects of stress and vice versa. In fact, conditions like obesity and anorexia are often caused by depression while depression can be caused by chronic stress. These manifestations of chronic stress can then have further adverse effects on a person's social life and employment.

More than just being able to affect each other, the physical and psychological effects of chronic stress can also disturb interpersonal relationships in many ways. In the first place, the physical effects of stress can actually result in a lack of closeness within a relationship. For example, having constant headaches or tension may cause a person to be less attentive and communicative. Since communication is such an important aspect in relationships, the lack of it may lead to problems. In like manner, the psychological effects of stress can be a trigger of arguments and other tense situations between two or more people. For instance, when a person is constantly irritated from chronic stress it is difficult to deal with him or her, which is undoubtedly a potential trigger for arguments. Dealing with a stressed person often results in stress in the other person as well. Therefore it is likely that chronic stress does not only affect the person initially suffering from it, but also lead to stress in the person being confronted by it.

Another effect chronic stress can have on a person's life is slowing or even inhibiting a person's performance in school or work situations. Generally speaking, the physical and psychological discomfort of chronic stress can have the potential to lead a person to need prolonged sick leave, but it can also cause an inability to deal with everyday work and school situations. For instance, the general irritability caused by chronic stress may result in a person being unable to handle constructive criticism or work in a team. In the event that a person suffering from chronic stress loses employment, the change of situation in itself can be a further trigger of stress. In regards to school, the stress-inducing tasks of finishing essays or studying for exams can lead an already stressed person to feel hopeless and give up on his or her scholastic endeavor. In fact, an Associated Press-mtvU poll suggests that 85% of students report feeling stress on a daily basis and that 42% of them actually feel hopeless to a point of considering to give up.

It is obvious that chronic stress does more than just affect the body and mind of the person suffering from it. But even more than just causing problems in relationships and work -or school situations, other aspects of social life are affected by chronic stress as well. For one, the depression and irritability as well as the physical symptoms caused by chronic stress have the potential to lead a person to become less interested in social events and isolate themselves. Furthermore, the manifestations of chronic stress can also cause a lack of interest in relationships. This fact is especially troubling because research conducted by the National Institute on Aging suggest that "social isolation constitutes a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality [... ]." Therefore it can be said that, in the event of a person losing interest in social events and relationships because of chronic stress, the overall well-being of the affected person is in danger. Another effect of stress is the growing disregard of it as a normal part of life. It has become commonplace to be stressed for many reasons and, unfortunately, this causes people to ignore the symptoms and write them off as temporary when, in fact, they are very much capable of becoming a serious and permanent problem in a person's life.

Given these points it is obvious that chronic stress is the leader of a vicious cycle. Routine situations as well as troubling circumstances can trigger an overload in the nervous system which can lead to a person feeling discomfort in many ways. The effects of stress, in themselves, create further stressors which worsen the physical and psychological condition and affect interpersonal situations. It is essential that stress is alleviated before it becomes chronic so that it does not have drastic effects on a person's well-being. Fortunately, there are many ways to manage stress including meditation, exercise and proper nutrition, which can be essential in preventing chronic stress and improving quality of life.