The word stress appears in our daily conversations, we have normalised it and yet it hides behind it an emotional and physical health problem that can have serious consequences.
Stress, according to the academic definition, is "tension caused by stressful situations resulting in psychosomatic reactions or psychological disorders, sometimes severe". Stress can be physical or emotional, it has its origin in a "stressor". and manifests itself in anxiety, even when the stressor is not present. It is chronic stress, a state of health that we can live with without realising how it affects us.
As Dr. Cesáreo Fernández Alonso, a doctor specialising in Geriatrics, explains. In the BBVA Foundation's Libro del Corazón, the stress response has three phases: the first is the alarm phase, when the person reacts to the stressor. Normally there is an adaptation to change and recovery. If the response continues, the individual is in a phase of resistance, i.e., the individual is in a phase of resilience, their stress response is perpetuated and if it becomes chronic, the person is in the third stage of burnout or distress.
There are some signs that may be indicating that we are in a situation of chronic stresschanges in our habits or discomfort that we need to be aware of:
- Habits: overeating or consumption of toxic substances
- Mood symptoms: feelings of failure, antisocial behaviour, panic or distress, low mood, lack of concentration and memory.
- Physiological symptoms: frequent pain, fatigue, fever, sweating, dry mouth and throat, gastrointestinal discomfort, sexual and occupational dysfunction, insomnia or skin problems.
These symptoms, which may occur in isolation or accumulate, may cause serious health problems over time:
- High blood pressure and heart failure
- Diabetes and obesity
- Depression and anxiety
- Skin conditions
- Premature ageing due to oxidative stress
- Autoimmune diseases
But how does a person get into this situation of distress or pathological stress? Chronic stress must be differentiated from acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, which occur, in different ways, days or weeks after having experienced a traumatic event and whose symptoms last for a certain period of time. As they are caused by a very specific and localised event, the prognosis for this type of disorder is good. and is treated at the psychological level with psychotherapies such as EMDR, specifically for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The burnout phase may arise because the acute stressor is very intense or sustained over time. In addition, this response is due to personality disorders which limit coping resources or diseases that affect the response of the nervous and neuroendocrine system, leading to stress.
Women suffer higher risk of cardiovascular disease due to stress
The risk of cardiovascular disease has different underlying causes and seems to affect women more. Sedentary lifestyles (22.5 percent of women are sedentary compared to 19 percent of men), diet and smoking are traditional risk factors and can be modified. However, pressure at work is identified as a risk factor that is affecting more and more people and more and more womenThe working conditions in terms of work and social aspects, the demands, as well as the reconciliation of childcare and care for the elderly, have a greater impact on women.
Cardiovascular risk is not the only consequence that stress can have for women: problems in the menstrual cycle - premenstrual syndrome with intense symptoms or irregular menstrual cycles - and difficulties in getting pregnant are associated with high stress levels.
Strategies for coping with stress
What can we do to free ourselves from constant stress? How can we identify that we are affected by these stressors? And what's more, can our bodies recover their health after having suffered from chronic stress?
The first thing to do when we identify stress or some of the symptoms that make our lives more "uphill" is to see a doctor. A treatment for chronic stress can have immediate effects, if it is a pharmacological treatment, but we must take into account that Chronic stress is closely related to our personality and coping with difficulties, and this requires long-term psychiatric and psychological treatment.
Another key is to recover our health and our organism. Oxidative stress, skin or digestive system disorders leave their mark: digestion difficulties, lack of sleep, skin problems or tiredness that can be regained. With treatments that restore our balance in a natural way and in parallel to conventional medical treatment, a person who has been suffering from stress for years can enjoy life again.