When Life Stinks: Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is much different from acute stress, although its long-term effects are much the same. Chronic stress has nothing to do with change. Chronic stress is long-term, constant, unrelenting stress on the body, mind, or spirit.
For example, someone living in poverty for years and years is under chronic stress. So is someone with a chronic illness such as arthritis or migraine headaches or other conditions that result in constant pain. Living in a dysfunctional family or working at a job you hate is a source of chronic stress. So is deep-seated self-hatred or low self-esteem.
Some people's chronic stress is obvious. They live in horrible conditions or have to endure terrible abuse. They are in prison, live in a war-torn country, or are a minority in a place where minorities suffer constant discrimination.
Other chronic stress is less obvious. The person who despises her job and feels she can never accomplish her dreams is under chronic stress. So is the person who feels stuck in a bad relationship.
According to a January 2001 article in Time Magazine, scientists have discovered that a sedentary 40-year-old woman who starts walking briskly for 30 minutes four times per week will have about the same low risk of heart attack as a woman who has exercised regularly for her entire life. It's never too late to start taking care of yourself!
Sometimes, chronic stress is the result of acute or episodic stress. An acute illness can evolve into chronic pain. An abused child can grow up to suffer self-loathing or low self-esteem. The problem with chronic stress is that people become so used to it that they often can't begin to see how to get out of the situation. They come to believe life is supposed to be painful, stressful, or miserable.
All forms of stress can result in a downward spiral of illness, depression, anxiety, and breakdown, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Too much stress is dangerous. It saps the joy out of life. It can even kill, whether through a heart attack, a violent act, suicide, a stroke, or, as some research suggests, cancer.