Individual Counseling Can Help Chronic Stress
Individual counseling at Take Charge, Inc. can help manage the chronic stress we are all facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in March, most people expected the novel coronavirus to be a short term problem. But now it has been ongoing for well over half a year with no end in sight, making it a chronic stressor. On this International Stress Awareness Day, let’s discuss how chronic stressors affect us differently from acute stressors, and how individual counseling can help.
Acute stress is caused by short term, passing problems. Typical examples include things like a car accident, an argument with a spouse or parent, or a health scare, although any of these can turn into chronic stressors if the accident causes a long term financial burden, you’re constantly arguing, or you develop a chronic condition. The body is designed to handle acute stress, and it does it well. In individual counseling, we actually define resilience by how quickly you recover from an acute stress episode.
When you are exposed to an acute stressor, your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. A combination of nerve and hormonal signals prompt your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, alters immune system responses, and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear.
Under acute stress, our blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and muscle tension may increase significantly for a short while, but for most of us, these physiological manifestations of stress quickly revert back to their normal (pre-stressful event) levels.
If we keep experiencing daily difficulty with a toxic co-worker, each day you have more than you can get done, you’re in a bad relationship and you continue to argue with your spouse, you have ongoing health problems, or you’re in a pandemic for eight months, all these are all examples of acute stress that can turn into chronic stress.
Our bodies are not so great at handling chronic stress, however. When the stress-response system is activated long term, the overexposure to stress hormones that it brings can disrupt almost every process in your body. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including:
- Weight gain
- Sleep problems
- Memory and concentration impairment
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
Everyone responds differently to stress, depending on several factors like genetics, trauma and other life experiences. Responding to stress in healthy ways can be learned, however. Stress management strategies include:
- Healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Good sleep hygiene
- Relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation
- Taking time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music
- Maintaining healthy friendships
- Seeking professional individual counseling when needed
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