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How To Know If Your Stress Is Chronic Or Acute

Dr Henriette Smith. November 2020

· Mind,Work,Life Skills

Most people make the incorrect assumption that al stress is the same, when in fact there is such a thing as bad stress and good stress. The stress response in a primal reaction that ensured our survival, but in today’s world, we do not require this response as much, if ever. Instead, our response to stress has been overwritten by being late for work, or experiencing social alienation.

While serious in their own right, they do not warrant a massive release of stress hormone, but is even worse when it becomes chronic. With that said, there are ways to determine if your stress is chronic or acute in nature, as there are clear differences in their manifestations. Look for the following:

You Suffer From Insomnia

Short-term stress does not have a lasting effect on the body, even though adrenaline is one of the body’s stress hormones. Adrenaline is the hormone that kicks us into high gear, so that we may “fight or flee.” This makes us alert, increases heart rate and breathing, and eliminates the desire for sleep.

When this turns chronic, however, adrenaline is released around the clock- impairing your ability to sleep. If you find yourself unable to sleep for many nights in a row, chronic stress is at work.

Poor Concentration And Inability To Work Efficiently

Stress rewires the way the brain works to make it more emotionally responsive. Thus, you will find changes occurring that decreases the areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and increased brain areas of the parts that control emotional responses. Thus, when someone assigns you a job task at work, you may opt to cry if you can’t meet the deadline, or lash out in anger because you feel overworked. This is not ideal, and is indicative of chronic stress.

Lack Of Interest In Sex

Chronic stress suppresses testosterone levels and induces negative changes to blood vessels that impairs blood flow. The result in a loss of interest in sex, or even when the desire does arise, the inability to attain or maintain an erection. In women, it primarily manifests as suppressed libido, but also affects fertility in both genders.

Inability To Feel Joy

The effects of chronic stress are far reaching, and can also affect the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. More specifically, it depletes their levels, which in turns hinders motivation and drive, and can cause depression due to reduced brain serotonin. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that modulates mood and wellbeing, while dopamine keeps us driven. When both of these brain chemicals are reduced, the result is a general loss of purpose, and a “so what” attitude. This has far reaching effects to family of the affected as well.

Changes To Attitude And Temperament

Though the changes to attitude and mood that occur when under chronic stress may be attributed to sleep deprivation, cortisol itself is known to cause these changes as well. As mentioned, cortisol alters the areas of the brain that govern logical thinking and emphasizes emotional reactions. Individuals become increasing likely to display outbursts of angry tantrums, or just act in a manner not conducive of fostering healthy relationships.


It is imperative that you get your stress under control as fast as humanly possible. Schedule a mini vacation, take a few days off from work and just try to get some sleep. The signs of chronic stress taking hold occur gradually, and should easily be managed in the early stages. Don’t allow your acute response to stress to become a much worse beast- relaxation is key!

This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.