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The Downward Spiral of Compounded Stress

Stressed woman reaching for a glass of wine

When stressors mount and continue at that new level of pressure, this escalated demand of compounded stress can become the “new normal” – This is not at all benign. What makes this dangerous is that our bodies start running on the juice of adrenaline which becomes the standard fuel for functioning and motivation. In the meantime, the body and mind are getting drained.

In our efforts to cope our lifestyle habits are more likely to become a source of stress and can reinforce negative impact leading to break-down. Some habits that tend to decline first include healthy food, sleep, and fun. My clients initially reported negative lifestyle habits: practically living on Wawa foods, drinking coffee to keep going, going to bed late and up early, taking too many prescribed or over-the-counter medications, barely getting outside, and not seeing friends – or even having friends. Life gets small – fast. Not only is that smallness limiting, but it’s dangerous to our physical and mental health.

Food and nutrition, sleep, recreation, leisure, socializing, and laughing are all important in maintaining and building our health. When they are “off” or lacking, problems start to surface.

When self-care is lacking, our bodies become vulnerable and eventually succumb to illness and disease – The combination of chronic stressors and unhealthy lifestyle behaviors makes for poor health and leads to depletion and inner distress – AND burnout. When adverse childhood experiences (discussed in the previous post-When Stress becomes a REAL Problem) are part of this stress equation, it can make for a challenging situation.

Health Risks

It is vital to address stress – it can erode health, mindset, and sense of well-being. Prolonged stress can negatively impact our immune systems and make way for the development of many problems, including depression, alcohol abuse/ addiction, chronic pain, irritable bowel disease, acid reflux, migraine headaches, cancer, and insomnia. These are just a few health issues influenced by prolonged or even acute intensive stress.

Keeping an eye out for early warning signs is critical in prevention.

Notice changes in:

  • Appetite/ food cravings
  • Sleep
  • Temper
  • Energy/ motivation
  • Mood
  • Concentration
  • Sociability
  • Sex drive
  • Frequent colds or illnesses

Disturbance in these areas of functioning is a warning sign that something needs to change. In these times of multiple demands, most of us need to improve our self-care and life skills to be more effective — increasing our ability to be flexible and resilient in the face of stress.

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I’m a collaborative, skills-based counselor. I work with adult clients to increase their awareness, build the skills and resources they need to be more resilient and stress-hardy, and better manage themselves, their relationships, and problems more effectively.

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