When Stress Gets Chronic.
Updated: Mar 31
Not all stress is bad for you. In fact, we are biologically well equipped to be able to take quite a bit of stress. But that stress is not supposed to last for a long time.
When our caveman ancestors were being chased by the polar bear they were under stress. The fight or flight response took over and ensured survival. This acute stress response is fantastic even in modern times. We can react to situations, we can meet deadlines and put some pressure on ourselves to achieve our goals. It can be intense but it is relatively short-lived.
At some point, the caveman (hopefully) got to their safe place and then made sure they took the time to rest and heal. So taking the time to do this in modern times is also just following that in-built biological response too. We need some recovery time.
However modern-day symptoms of stress are becoming more chronic as we don't feel we are escaping our 'polar bear'..... the stress feels as if it is constantly recurring or just persists for a long time. 24-hour news, emails constantly coming in and having our mobile phones now be our mini-computers means that we are constantly vigilant. We're not really designed for this - we need to find some safe space.
This is where the problem arises. This constant bombardment of social, economic and cultural pressures in modern times has made us sick. It's made us sick not just mentally but physically too.
Once again, this is the biological response that is inbuilt within us;
Imagine you had been attacked by a polar bear. Your brain will send out signals to the rest of the body to heal - you'd need some inflammation to occur for those wounds and damaged bones right? Except what happens when there is no physical damage? The fight or flight response is irrational - it thinks it needs to respond as if it is in immediate danger....great for polar bears....not so good for everyday life in the 21st century!
So you can go from being slightly worries about something to chronic anxiety, or from sad to clinical depression.
The long, drawn-out emotional stress translates into physical stress over time. The body itself begins reacting to the inflammation that has risen.
High blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes are often caused by stress. Fertility issues, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, IBS...the list goes on.
None of us is as special as we think we are. No-one has a unique problem; there will be someone in this world that has the same problem as you. In a room full of people there will not be 1 person who has NEVER experienced stress. Bereavement, financial pressures, family issues, work stress - we've all faced something in our lives and will do in the future.
We need to learn how to put that stress into perspective. We need to be able to manage that stress and then learn how to recover, how to utilise our energy for acute stress and not allow it to become chronic.
Not all stress is bad for us.
Gin Lalli firstname.lastname@example.org
Gin Lalli is a Solution Focused Therapist specialising in anxiety, depression, stress and sleep. She is based in Edinburgh, Scotland