Headaches, sleep disturbances, stomachaches, raised blood pressure .. are those physical symptoms familiar? Chronic stress is becoming a major health problem in the business world. What is chronic stress, and how to address it?
Stress is a natural physical response.
Let’s debunk a myth: stress is not necessarily a bad thing! This brilliant ability to feel stress that we have is essential to survival. Stress is primarily a physical response: when stressed, the body switches to “fight or flight” mode and adjusts to threats around. We need stress to function in our everyday lives. This “good” stress is a stress we control when we are confronted with a specific situation: a huge workload to manage, a presentation in front of the whole team, sales goals to achieve before the year ends… To help us handle those stressful situations, the body releases a complex mix of hormones and chemicals: heart beats fast, hands are sweaty, mind is focus and sharp... As soon as the situation is under control or over, the body calms down. Health is in danger when stress becomes chronic!
Understanding chronic stress.
Chronic stress is stress that persists over an extended period of time. The body feels constantly under assault and can’t handle the stressful situation anymore. When we feel overwhelmed by a situation, chronic stress fills in. The more it lasts, the more it changes our ability to react, exhausting the body and putting everybody’s health at risk.
When the natural stress goes haywire: the general adaptation syndrome.
When faced with a stressful situation, the body responds following three predictable stages called general adaptation syndrome (GAS).
THE ALARM STAGE
The distress signal appears, the body prepares to “fight or flight”. The alarm stage provides the body with a burst of energy: the heart rate increases, the adrenal gland releases cortisol (a stress hormone), and the body receives a boost of adrenaline, which increases energy. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion. In a situation of natural stress, the body rests as soon as the distress signal disappears.
The stress reaction keeps on going and lasts longer than it should: the body remains on high alert and doesn’t resolve the stress. To cope with it, it secretes other hormones called glucocorticoids. Those hormones rise the sugar level in the blood and bring the necessary and needed energy to the muscles, heart and brain.
The stressful situation keeps on going and the body doesn’t know how to regulate it anymore. The physical, emotional and mental resources are drained and the body has no longer strength to fight stress!