Stress is a normal part of life. There’s good stress, bad stress, and then really bad stress: the chronic kind. Chronic stress is very serious. Left unchecked, it can lead to poor job performance, sleeping problems and major health issues – or worse.
Let’s have a moment of silence for your chronic stress. It was there for a reason. It made you aware of an imbalance in your life, and now you can move past it to a better state for your health, wellbeing and success.
[Not sure if you’re experiencing chronic stress? Below in this post is a quiz to find out.]
Is your chronic stress still alive and kicking, and causing all kinds of havoc for you emotionally, mentally, and physically? Not quite past it yet but ready to put it to rest?
Below are some ways you can start taking back control and start feeling better again.
The different types of stress: the good, the bad and the really bad
There are 3 different types of stress: the good, the bad and the really bad.
The good stress is called eustress. It’s a positive form of stress that has a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional wellbeing.
This positive stress happens when you’re promoted, or given a new work project you were competing for, or during a vacation.
Anytime you stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone, which is a good thing for your growth and personal development, you’ll experience eustress. You may not be consciously aware of it, but it happens.
Endorphins, the feel-good chemicals our body produces, are released. It’s exciting and fulfilling, but the feelings can also be a bit challenging and unsettling.
This type of stress helps you to develop and stay emotionally and mentally balanced due to the positive feelings you’ll experience. Eustress also supports your physical body too, like when you work out, lift weights or finish a challenging hike.
The second type of stress, the bad stress, is called distress. It’s defined by Merriam-Webster as pain or suffering affecting the body, a bodily part, or the mind.
It is the body’s response to changes that are creating a demand on it. We experience physical changes as part of this “fight or flight” response, like the release of stress hormones (e.g., cortisol), and an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration, and respiration rate.
In addition to the physical changes, distress taxes your resources on all levels: mentally, emotionally, energetically, and even spiritually. It can lead to poor performance, mental fog and confusion, scattered thoughts, or a feelings of anxiety or depression.
The really bad type of stress, the third type is chronic stress. It is when distress continues for a prolonged period of time, typically 21 days or longer, but the timing varies from person to person. It can be shorter or longer depending on the stressor and how much you can tolerate.
This biological response to the challenging and demanding situations that are a regular part of our life is normal, but becomes dangerous when it continues for this prolonged period of time.
This long-term activation of the stress-response system – and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones – can disrupt almost all your body’s processes, putting you at an increased risk of physical and mental/emotional health problems.
It can go on long-term because we either ignore or push down the negative effects of it. For example, one of my clients worked in a demanding environment. She was so busy working on the next new “emergency” and feeling under pressure to deliver results on time and under budget, that weeks went by while she ignored the burning sensation in her stomach every time she ate or drank something.
Working together we made the connection of her stomach pain to the work stress. She had a vacation planned and to no one’s surprise, her burning stomach went away during that time away from work.
The consequences of chronic stress can be much more serious than my client’s, she recognized and made the connection early on, before her burning stomach could escalate to a serious health problem or illness.
Like in my personal case when I worked in Corporate Human Resources, I was ignoring my chronic stress and thought I could push through it. I thought that things would get better tomorrow, or in a few days.
That never happened. I remember the work demands seemed to lessen, but that was temporary, and before I could take a breath, the next new “fire” was screaming to be put out.
That chronic stress led to physical symptoms that I ignored for months. My body was trying to get me to slow down and make some changes, with excruciating joint pain, lethargy, body aches, night sweats, shortness of breath, sleep issues and digestive problems – all of these things on a daily basis.
This eventually led to a serious inflammatory disease that finally got my attention. The scariness of a health crisis was the turning point for me to re-evaluate my chronic stress, and start making changes to address the root cause.
My only regret is that I didn’t get the help and support I needed sooner.
That’s another reason for getting help, and getting it quickly: chronic stress can lead to a feeling of overwhelm and make the situation seem hopeless if it goes on for months or years.
The right professional to partner with can bring a whole new perspective and viewpoint along with support to start seeing positive shifts.
Do you have chronic stress?
It’s critical to recognize the signs of chronic stress and to take the necessary steps to remove it from your life – to have that moment of silence for it.
Take this quiz (click here) to find out if you have chronic stress.
Additionally, stay present and mindful, and pay attention to the bad stress in your life, and any physical, mental or emotional symptoms because of it. How long does it last? How frequently does it occur?
If it’s been going on for weeks or months without any improvement, and you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed and like things are out of control, take back control and address it like your life depends on it, because it does.
Here are three ways to take back control and start feeling better
1) Get organized and start setting limits. It’s okay to say no.
Make a list of all your commitments and projects and identify the ones you absolutely must do and the non-essential ones that can be removed, delayed, or delegated.
My previous corporate career was very demanding with new priorities every day. As the tasks and expected deliverables kept coming in, instead of just adding them to the list and beginning to feel like I was drowning and out of control, I took control.
I would review these new items with my manager, in relation to the others. Specifically asking which were the top priorities to work on immediately and which would have to be delegated, delayed, etc. Setting these expectations and being clear on a regular basis was key to keeping things organized and in control.
For personal non-work commitments, you may want to postpone non-critical items like volunteer activities or home-improvement projects until a later time. Or, delegate or hire someone to take the pressure off of you.
One of my clients would get stressed about not having the time to keep a clean home. She would get mad because her husband and children wouldn’t help clean.
She found the perfect solution in hiring a cleaning service to clean on a regular basis. The cost was well worth it; she has more time for priorities and for quality time with her family, and feels more in control and less stressed.
Most importantly, remember that it’s okay to say no and to set limits.
Don’t accept any more commitments until you feel that your stress is under control. And don’t feel guilty about it – your wellbeing and health is of the utmost importance.
2) Commit to one simple change.
To increase eustice, or good stress, and keep distress at bay, learn how to set professional and personal goals that are challenging and realistic. Track your progress to hold yourself accountable.
Your one simple goal, or change, may be adding in some regular physical activity a few times a week – exercise is a great stress buster.
Or you may want to enhance the quality of your sleep and can commit to getting at least 7 hours a night of good quality sleep.
3) Get support from family, friends and professionals.
When I was so sick, I sought help from the typical sources: doctors and health specialists. Fortunately, after going the standard healthcare route and becoming increasing hopeless in finding a diagnosis and treatment, I began sharing my struggle with close friends and family who in turn led me to some alternative health specialists and therapies (energy healing, naturopathic medicine, plant-based supplements, meditation) that worked for me and helped in my recovery.
In most cases, even more support is needed and a professional coaching relationship could be the solution for you. With a good coaching relationship, you have an unbiased professional devoted to their clients’ progress and wellbeing.
It’s a different dynamic than support from family and friends, who may think they are helping but they might be biased, incapable, or too close to you to help.
Take action now
Trust me, from someone who’s been there and learned – if you think you’re experiencing uncontrolled chronic stress, please take action now to address it.
Take one small step to start, and before you know it you’ll be able to look back like I can now, and see how far you’ve come.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash