Are you experiencing mental, emotional, or physical tension resulting from a difficult or very demanding circumstance in your life? Are you suffering from anxiety, fear, anger, or sadness? If so, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing STRESS.
WHAT IS STRESS?
Stress is our body’s reaction to pressure. There are a plethora of situations or life events that can trigger a stress response in our bodies. Every person has a stress threshold that is unique to them. Some people seem to be more affected by stress than others. If you find yourself frequently withdrawing from others, you may be under stress. When decisions need to be made but you’re constantly indecisive about so many things, you may be undergoing stress. Problems falling asleep, staying asleep, irritability, headaches, nausea, heart palpitations . . . stress, stress, stress!
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE ARE STRESSED?
Not all stress is problematic. Our brain and body’s fight or flight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event or situation that is tense or frightening. The perception of a threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body to fight or flee. This is a very good, built-in defence system, especially if a grizzly bear is charging toward you!
WHAT CAN OCCUR DURING PROLONGED PERIODS OF STRESS?
Our fight or flight response is helpful during times when we are facing danger or even when we find ourselves in a difficult situation. However, these moments in our life usually pass and they are only temporary. However, stress that lasts for prolonged periods can become quite different. A serious illness, domestic violence, an inability to work due to injury or a messy divorce are all examples of prolonged and traumatic circumstances that could stimulate ongoing stress in our life. Without healthy and supportive relationships to protect you and lacking helpful stress management techniques to aid you, these types of prolonged stressful situations could become toxic.
Stress, when prolonged, can become toxic. Toxic stress is also called chronic stress. Toxic stress occurs when the brain and body’s fight and flight response is activated too often or for too long. When stress becomes a regular part of our life, it can quickly become toxic or chronic. Heightened cortisol levels occur when individuals experience toxic stress. When these cortisol levels remain high for a given amount of time, a person becomes at risk for physical illnesses, injuries, mental illness and addictive behaviour. Toxic stress can produce distinct changes in a person’s physical and/or mental health, as well as affect behaviour and the ability to make the right decisions.
CAUSES AND/OR TRIGGERS OF TOXIC STRESS
- The ending of an important relationship, i.e., the death of a loved one, divorce or separation.
- Financial hardship, i.e., job loss, change in employment, unexpected expenses, bankruptcy.
- Emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
- A natural disaster.
- Being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness.
- Any type of traumatic experience.
- Family conflict and/or discord.
- Being bullied or harassed.
- Workplace demands and conflicts.
- Racial, cultural or religious prejudice and oppression.
- Food or housing insecurity.
This is just a short list of factors that cause toxic stress and are commonly known as risk factors. As mentioned earlier, every person has a stress threshold that is unique to them, and some people may be more affected by these risk factors than others.
COMMONLY REPORTED SYMPTOMS OF TOXIC STRESS
- Sleep disruptions and nightmares.
- Increased heart rate and high blood pressure.
- Changes in appetite; over-eating or eating too little.
- Trouble regulating emotions, irritability, anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
- Impulsive, risky and/or destructive patterns of behaviour.
- Inability to focus or concentrate.
- Racing thoughts and/or negative thoughts about self, life and the future.
- Addictive behaviour and abuse of substances such as drugs or alcohol.
- Physical pain such as migraine headaches, muscle and joint pain, and gastrointestinal pain.
- Inability to feel present or engaged at work, school, and everyday activities.
TOXIC STRESS PROTECTIVE FACTORS
Just as there are risk factors for certain individuals, research shows that some people have developed protective factors that help them avoid toxic stress. Things like effective coping skills, strong problem-solving skills, high levels of social support and connection and a strong belief system are examples of those who have established strong protective factors to deal with stress.
Identifying stress-related triggers is the best way to defend against suffering symptoms of toxic stress. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to pause and reach for a healthy coping response that can serve you well, body, mind and soul. You can do this by establishing a daily routine that can ward off the effects of stressful events.
TIPS TO SUCCESSFULLY AVOID TOXIC STRESS
Tip #1 – Focus on Things You Can Control
Toxic stress is usually the result of many different stressors and demands, most of which are commonly beyond your control. Obsessing over what is out of your control can lead to feeling more stressed and overwhelmed. Instead, spend more of your energy and focus on whatever factors are within your control. Maybe that is adjusting your response to a situation you are currently facing, or changing your outlook, resisting trying to change the past and instead looking to deal with the present. Perhaps it’s altering what you do in your free time to relax. Whenever possible, take affirmative action that can improve your current situation and invest your time and energy into actions that will result in a positive return.
Tip #2 – Establish a Healthy and Balanced Lifestyle
When facing stress, many individuals can fall into unhealthy habits like drinking in excess, overeating, vegging out in front of the TV, and passing on the opportunity to be physically active to waste hours scrolling the internet. These unhealthy habits can provide temporary relief from stress, but they can also lead to long-term problems and health issues that can make stress toxic. Make your health a priority and do what you can to ensure that you are eating well, sleeping enough, exercising regularly, and avoiding self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
Tip #3 – Work on and Maintain Healthy Relationships
Studies show that connection and support from friends and family are vital protective factors against toxic stress. When you experience stress in your life, isolation can sometimes be more appealing than hanging out with people. Unfortunately, isolation only worsens the harmful effects of toxic stress. Make a conscious effort to continue to reach out and make plans with those you are close to and who love you.
Tip #4 – Do Things That Relax and Replenish You
Take time to play and have fun! The worse thing about stress is that it can consume you. You must not allow stressful times to rob you of joy in life. Take time to enjoy what fills you up and replenishes your soul. Maybe that looks like spending an afternoon at the spa or reading a good book, taking a walk in the forest or meditating. There are many excellent things you can do to help promote relaxation. Making these a part of your normal routine will help reduce and manage stress.
WE’RE HERE TO HELP YOU REDUCE YOUR STRESS
If you are experiencing symptoms of toxic stress, Online-Therapy.com is here for you! When you sign up to work with Online-Therapy.com you get to choose a therapist you feel comfortable with, and you can develop a personalized approach that supports your needs to bring about the changes you desire.
At Online-Therapy.com we offer an integrated and holistic approach to wellness and wholeness. Our platform includes regular sessions with a therapist via phone, text chat or video, worksheet support, journaling, and yoga. Our ongoing support means you have access to the professional advice you need every day, guiding you to better mental health and wellness.
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