No surprise that the World Health Organization has recognized chronic stress as a global epidemic. But what does this international, cross-cultural crisis actually look like?
Three faces of chronic stress
• An interviewer asks a successful business person, “What are your favorite things to do when you're not at work?” Response…. “I don't understand the question.”
• A holistic healthcare provider confirms exercising 10,000 steps and eating nutritiously almost every day to sustain good health. She then confides that she feels stressed most of the time and does not get enough sleep.
• A software executive plans to take an annual beach vacation with her family, then decides she has too much to do. Her vacation becomes a “workcation” that combines a swimsuit, a beach towel and a laptop.
An indicator of chronic stress: “I’m okay”
When I asked an adult evening class how they ranked their stress levels, I got typical responses, such as “I’m so-so” or, “I’m doing alright.” In exploring this idea further, individuals realized they commuted 2 hours to work, they hated going home to repeated conflict, or they faced a troubling financial burden… Sounds like stress to me!
Situations such as the above often reflect emotional tugs and multiple responsibilities at home and at work. There is a common denominator underlying chronic stress: maladaptation. In other words, this awesome body of ours can make physiological adjustments to keep us functioning in the face of stressful events.
So what if I’m stressed …. I’m handling it!
When unresolved stress goes on for months or years, the endocrine system, the immune system, the nervous system and other amazing systems communicate and interact with each other to compensate for real or perceived challenges. This imbalance takes a toll.
A further complication: Making unhealthy choices in response to stress, such as overeating, smoking, overindulging in alcohol or repeatedly losing your temper may be a red flag indicating stress may be harming long-term health and well-being.
• What changes in your body help you realize that you are stressed?
• How rapidly can you become aware of these stress responses?
• More importantly, what do you do to counter them to give yourself a little breathing room?