Do you really understand the role Chronic Stress is playing in your life? The basic human stress response saved lives in prehistoric times, when imminent physical danger from wild animals, other humans, and environmental events was common. The “fight or flight” response induces a rush of adrenaline and an increase of adrenaline and an increase in cortisol. These are both stress-related hormones. This response provides a sudden burst of energy that would allow a person to run fast to escape a threat. The heart rate also increases, pumping blood to the muscles to help the individual fight or run. There is also a temporarily lowered sense of pain during the emergency. Non-essential body functions, such as digestion are shut down. The immune system, which is not needed during the flight or fight emergency is weakened.
In modern society, we experience far fewer physical emergencies but encounter many more sources of chronic psychological and physical stress. When stress is ongoing, not temporary, it undermines the immune system. Over the short term, susceptibility to colds, the flu and other illnesses increases. Over the long term, cardiovascular disease, allergies, hives, rashes, asthma, constipation, diarrhea, diabetes and cancer can result.
When psychological, emotional, and/or physiological stressors are excessive and prolonged, the body is a frequent, even constant state of “flight or fight.” This response, originally developed for temporary, emergency situations, is not meant to exist continually for long durations. It elevates stress hormones and heart rate, and depresses pain sensitivity and immune response. When these effects recur too often and /or continue for too long, our defenses against illness are compromised. When people experience chronic stress, their levels of the stress hormones; adrenaline and cortisol are constantly elevated, triggering inflammatory reactions in the body. Besides diseases, inflammation is responsible for fatigue and depression.
Some people can withstand great stress without getting sick; others become ill with fewer, less severe stressors. This is because an individual’s ability to cope with stress matters more than the individual’s stress level. Some ways to avoid stress related illness include pursuing enjoyable, fun leisure activities; practicing meditation; undergoing hypnosis; using behavior modification to decrease stress reactions and learn more effective coping behaviors; and taking part in cognitive therapy or rational-emotive behavior therapy to change counterproductive thought patterns, emotions and behaviors.
Psychotherapy can greatly reduce the psychological and physiological reactions taking place as a result of chronic stress in your life. The act of participating in just one hour a week of undivided time in which you enhance your wellbeing through talk therapy will reduce the stress response, increase your ability to cope, and give you a greater feeling of control and peace in your life.