What happens when stress becomes chronic

May 19, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

Our baseline relaxed physiological state (BRPS) is critical to keeping us alive. It helps with cell regeneration and replenishing the body’s energy reserves. BRPS helps us continuously recover mentally and physically, and enhances our longevity. So explains neurologist Dr Etienne van der Walt, an authority in applied behavioural neuroscience.

He explains that our BRPS is not a state of laziness or apathy. In this state, we are alert and we can engage in silent reflection to function optimally.

Chronic stress

We move in and out of our BPRS at least 100 times a day. It’s a constant back-and-forth between a state of stress and BPRS. When you’re in BRPS, you sleep well, your heart rate is good and your digestive system functions well. However, under constant stress, we fall out of BRPS. Under these conditions, even when you sleep, you can never quite reach BPRS, as chronic stress never really allows for restful sleep.

Cancer cells then have an opportunity to grow, and injured cells are unable to heal.

How much can you take before you break?

Resilience is not tenacity or grit. It is an innate neurobiological capacity that exists in everyone. It’s what our ancestors had to help them adapt to change. It is the ability to bounce back and bounce forward. Resilience allows us all to overcome challenges.

If the challenges come too thick and fast, they may override our resilience, and we can break. Breaking means the stress is too much – too much energy is being assigned to tasks. Excessive, chronic stress causes a leakage of energy, and this constant leakage causes illness.

Resilience is the body and brain’s capacity to prevent implosion in the presence of chronic stress. It allows us to learn and grow through stressful situations, and enables us to bounce forward.

5 High-performance domains in which to build resilience

Dr van der Walt lists ‘five big things’ that help build resilience:

1. Connectors result in social safety
This involves bonding with others (built on trust) and belonging (feeling a sense of connection).

2. Transformers – a shift in mindset
This means moving from an individual competitive mindset to a collaborative competitive one. It involves engaging the part of the brain that sees the bigger picture, not just the details.

3. Energy
This is finite and allows us to think, learn, allocate resources and work together. The key to having energy is optimising the energy we have. Humour, curiosity, optimism and enthusiasm help increase energy.

4. Rhythms
This involves being conscious or mindful of rhythms such as nutrition, exercise, movement and breathing.

5. Innovators
This means cultivating learning and innovation and being a lifelong learner.

Managing stress – specifically chronic stress – is a critical step to living a life of confidence.

Glacier Financial Solutions (Pty) Ltd is a licensed financial services provider.
Sanlam Life Insurance Ltd is a licensed life insurer, financial services and registered credit provider (NCRCP43).