In our modern, overstimulated world, stress has become a real epidemic of the times. The experience of stress has become so common, that we have started to perceive stress as “normal.” The trouble with this habituation to stress is that stress will never feel normal to the body. For the body, stress is actually a problematic experience.
Stress essentially describes the experience that our body has in response to challenging life circumstances or events. Ultimately, stress is a physiological function with a specific purpose: survival. The physical experience of stress was bred into our human experience to help us stay alive when there is a threat to our survival, like running from a predator or engaging in battle. The body kicks into stress mode during these survival moments and floods the body with “fight or flight” stress hormones that enable us to run fast and save ourselves quickly. However, our stress experience in modern life doesn’t have much to do with animals nor battles. Much of our stress has to do with meetings, dinner parties, driving kids to soccer practice, and getting along with a significant other. The thing about stress in our modern lives is that it doesn't actually come from a survival threat, and it’s always present.
We may not be experiencing stress in high peaks anymore, but we are experiencing stress at low levels nearly around the clock. This kind of chronic stress leaks stress hormones (cortisol) into the body — which is highly unhealthy. The regular presence of stress hormones in the body has so many health implications: inflammation, lower immunity, hormonal imbalance, heart irregularity, and digestive issues, to name a few. Chronic stress continues to impact our emotional and mental health as well, as it is hard to find fulfillment in life with stress constantly in the background.
When stress continues for an extended amount of time, an individual may experience what is called an adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder is a stress-related condition spurred by an individual’s experience of stress in their life, like challenges at work or in a relationship, going to college, death of a loved one, an accident, a breakup, etc. Instead of adjusting to the change after a few months, an individual with adjustment disorder continues to feel the emotional and behavioral intensity of the initial stressor. Symptoms of adjustment disorder include feelings of sadness, crying, anxiety or worrying, irregular sleep, change in appetite, social withdrawal, and trouble with daily functioning.
With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, stress has become an amplified experience in our society. Everyone is feeling and experiencing changes in their life related to the pandemic. Work life, relationships, personal health, school, and family life are all affected by COVID, and every person is struggling to adjust to the new circumstances that this virus has brought. Experiencing stress induced by the pandemic is absolutely normal, and to be expected. Those with anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compromised immunity, and/or chronic stress already are likely more impacted by the added pandemic stress — and that is understandable! Navigating this unknown space is challenging for everyone, and can be drastically improved with the support of therapy. Most importantly, therapy provides tools that help a person cope with whatever circumstances are coming up.
It is possible to mitigate stress, even in times as wild as these. There are many different treatment options that Colorado CBT provides here in Denver, starting with our COVID Coping Skills guide. Other treatment options include CBT, ACT, and mindfulness. To discuss further, please reach out and make an appointment!