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The Science of Chronic Stress and How to Coach Your Clients

dealing with chronic stressChronic 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 one dislikes is a source of chronic stress.  The same is true for deep-seated self-hatred or low self-esteem. Coaches can be very effective at building 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.

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.

Who Experiences Stress?

So, who is affected by all this stress? You? Your partner? Your parents? Your grand-parents? Your kids? Your friends? Your enemies? The guy in the next cubicle? The man, in the elevator? The powerful CEO? The people in the market?

Yes.  To all.

Almost everyone has experienced stress, and many people experience chronic stress, or constant, regular stress, every day of their lives. Some people handle stress well, even when it is extreme. Others fall apart under stress that seems negligible to the outside world. What’s the difference? Some may have learned better coping mechanisms, but many researchers believe that people have an inherited level of stress tolerance. Some people can take a lot and still feel great and, in fact, do their best work under stress. Other people require very low stress lives to function productively.

Nevertheless, we all experience stress some of the time, and these days, more and more people experience stress all of the time. The effects aren’t just individualized, either. According to the American Institute of Stress:

  • An estimated 1 million people in the work force are absent on an average workday because of stress-related complaints. This is why we also offer you a Corporate Wellness Coach Certification.
  • Nearly half of all American workers suffer from symptoms of burnout, or severe job-related stress that impairs or impedes functioning
  • Job stress costs U.S. industry $300 billion every year in absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover, and direct medical, legal, and insurance fees.
  • Between 60 percent and 80 percent of industrial accidents are probably due to stress.
  • Workers’ compensation benefits for job stress, once rare, have become common
  • In California alone, employers paid almost $1 billion for medical and legal fees related to workers’ compensation benefits.
  • Nine out of ten job stress suits are successful, with an average payout of more than four times the payout for injury claims

Stress has become a way of life for many, but that doesn’t mean we should sit back and accept the undesirable effects of stress on our bodies, minds, and spirits. While we probably can’t do much about the stress experienced by others (unless we’ve the cause of the stress), you can certainly coach client to tackle the stress in their own lives.

Chronic stress can trick our bodies into thinking they are in equilibrium. Even if something becomes part of your daily routine and you think your body has adjusted to, say, working late, eating junk food, or not getting enough sleep, the stress of not giving your body what it requires will eventually catch up with you.

Learn more about becoming a Spencer Institute Certified Stress Management Coach.